Hybrid soft-lithography/laser machined microchips for the parallel generation of droplets
Microfluidic chips have been developed to generate droplets and microparticles with control over size, shape, and composition not possible using conventional methods. However, it has remained a challenge to scale-up production for practical applications due to the inherently limited throughput of micro-scale devices. To address this problem, we have developed a self-contained microchip that integrates many (N = 512) micro-scale droplet makers. This 3 × 3 cm2 PDMS microchip consists of a two-dimensional array of 32 × 16 flow-focusing droplet makers, a network of flow channels that connect them, and only two inputs and one output. The key innovation of this technology is the hybrid use of both soft-lithography and direct laser-micromachining. The microscale resolution of soft lithography is used to fabricate flow-focusing droplet makers that can produce small and precisely defined droplets. Deeply engraved (h ≈ 500 μm) laser-machined channels are utilized to supply each of the droplet makers with its oil phase, aqueous phase, and access to an output channel. The engraved channels' low hydrodynamic resistance ensures that each droplet maker is driven with the same flow rates for highly uniform droplet formation. To demonstrate the utility of this approach, water droplets (d ≈ 80 μm) were generated in hexadecane on both 8 × 1 and 32 × 16 geometries.