Eliminating air bubble in microfluidic systems utilizing integrated in-line sloped microstructures
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In most microfluidic systems, formation and accumulation of air and other gas bubbles can be detrimental to their operation. Air bubbles in a microfluidic channel induce a pressure profile fluctuation and therefore disturb the stability of the system. Once an air bubble is generated, it is also extremely difficult to remove such bubbles from the microfluidic systems. In tissue and cell culture microfluidic systems, a single air bubble can completely shear off cells that are being cultured. Air bubbles can be especially problematic in microfluidic systems that have to operate for long periods of time, since completely eliminating the generation of air bubbles for prolonged periods of time, where a single air bubble can ruin an entire multi-day/multi-week experiment, is extremely challenging. Several in-line and off-chip bubble traps have been developed so far, but cannot completely eliminate air bubbles from the system or are relatively difficult to integrate into microfluidic systems. Recent advancements in two-photon polymerization (2PP)-based microfabrication method eliminates the restriction in Z-axis control in conventional two-dimensional microfabrication methods, and thus enables complex 3D structures to be fabricated at sub-micrometer resolution. In this work, by utilizing this 2PP technique, we developed a sloped microfluidic structure that is capable of both trapping and real-time removal of air bubbles from the system in a consistent and reliable manner. The novel structures and designs developed in this work present a unique opportunity to overcome many limitations of current methods, bring state-of-the-art solutions in air bubble removal, and enable a multifunctional microfluidic device to operate seamlessly free from air bubble disruption. The microfabricated system was tested in both droplet microfluidics and continuous-flow microfluidics applications, and demonstrated to be effective in preventing air bubble aggregation over time. This simple sloped microstructure can be easily integrated into broad ranges of microfluidic devices to minimize bubble introduction, which will contribute to creating a stable and bubble-free microfluidic platform amenable for long-term operation.
author list (cited authors)
Huang, C., Wippold, J. A., Stratis-Cullum, D., & Han, A.