The serviceability of microfluidics-based instrumentation including ‘lab-on-a-chip’ systems critically depends on control of fluid motion. We are reporting here an alternative approach to microfluidics based upon the micromanipulation of discrete droplets of aqueous electrolyte by electrowetting. Using a simple open structure, consisting of two sets of opposing planar electrodes fabricated on glass substrates, positional and formational control of microdroplets ranging in size from several nanoliters to several microliters has been demonstrated at voltages between 15–100 V. Since there are no permanent channels or structures between the plates, the system is highly flexible and reconfigurable. Droplet transport is rapid and efficient with average velocities exceeding 10 cm s−1 having been observed. The dependence of the velocity on voltage is roughly independent of the droplet size within certain limits, thus the smallest droplets studied (3
nl) could be transported over 1000 times their length per second. Formation, mixing, and splitting of microdroplets was also demonstrated using the same microactuator structures. Thus, electrowetting provides a means to achieve high levels of functional integration and flexibility for microfluidic systems.
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