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Water-in-water droplets by passive microfluidic flow focusing

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journal contribution
posted on 21.05.2021, 16:42 by Byeong-Ui Moon, Niki Abbasi, Steven G. Jones, Dae Kun Hwang, Scott S. H. Tsai
We present a simple microfluidic system that generates water-in-water, aqueous two phase system (ATPS) droplets, by passive flow focusing. ATPS droplet formation is achieved by applying weak hydrostatic pressures, with liquid-filled pipette tips as fluid columns at the inlets, to introduce low speed flows to the flow focusing junction. To control the size of the droplets, we systematically vary the interfacial tension and viscosity of the ATPS fluids, and adjust the fluid column height at the fluid inlets. The size of the droplets scales with a power-law of the ratio of viscous stresses in the two ATPS phases. Overall, we find a drop size coefficient of variation (CV; i.e. polydispersity) of about 10 %. We also find that when drops form very close to the flow focusing junction, the drops have CV of less than 1 %. Our droplet generation method is easily scalable: we demonstrate a parallel system that generates droplets simultaneously, and improves the droplet production rate by up to one order-of-magnitude. Finally, we show the potential application of our system for encapsulating cells in water-in-water emulsions, by encapsulating microparticles and cells. To the best of our knowledge, our microfluidic technique is the first that forms low interfacial tension ATPS droplets without applying external perturbations. We anticipate that this simple approach will find utility in drug and cell delivery applications because of the all-biocompatible nature of the water-in-water ATPS environment.

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