A microfluidic traveling-wave electrophoresis (TWE) system is reported that uses a locally defined traveling electric field wave within a microfluidic channel to achieve band transport and separation. Low voltages, over a range of −0.5 to +0.5 V, are used to avoid electrolysis and other detrimental redox reactions while the short distance between electrodes, ∼25 μm, provides high electric fields of ∼200 V cm−1. It is expected that the low voltage requirements will simplify the future development of smaller portable devices. The TWE device uses four interdigitated electrode arrays: one interdigitated electrode array pair is on the top of the microchannel and the other interdigitated electrode array pair is on the microchannel bottom. The top and bottom substrates are joined by a PDMS spacer that has a nominal height of 15 μm. A pinched injection scheme is used to define a narrow sample band within an injection cross either electrokinetically or hydrodynamically. Separation of two dyes, fluorescein and FLCA, with baseline resolution is achieved in less than 3 min and separation of two proteins, insulin and casein is demonstrated. Investigation of band broadening with fluorescein reveals that sample band widths equivalent to the diffusion limit can be achieved within the microfluidic channel, yielding highly efficient separations. This low level of band broadening can be achieved with capillary electrophoresis, but is not routinely observed in microchannel electrophoresis. Sample enrichment can be achieved very easily with TWE using a device with converging electric field waves controlled by two sets of independently controlled interdigitated electrodes arrays positioned serially along the microchannel. Sample enrichment of 40-fold is achieved without heterogeneous buffer/solvent systems, sorptive, or permselective materials. While there is much room for improvement in device fabrication, and many capabilities are yet to be demonstrated, it is anticipated that the capabilities and performance demonstrated herein will enable new lab-on-a-chip processes and systems.
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