Low-cost experimentation for the study of droplet microfluidics
The continued growth of microfluidics into industry settings in areas such as point-of-care diagnostics and targeted therapeutics necessitates a workforce trained in microfluidic technologies and experimental methods. Laboratory courses for students at the university and high school levels will require cost-effective in-class demonstrations that instruct in chip design, fabrication, and experimentation at the microscale. We present a hand-operated pressure pumping system to form monodisperse picoliter to nanoliter droplet streams at low cost, and a series of exercises aimed at instructing in the specific art of droplet formation. Using this setup, the student is able to generate and observe the modes of droplet formation in flow-focusing devices, and the effect of device dimensions on the characteristics of formed droplets. Lastly, at ultra-low cost we demonstrate large plug formation in a T-junction using coffee stirrers as a master mold substitute. Our method reduces the cost of experimentation to enable intuitive instruction in droplet formation, with additional implications for creating droplets in the field or at point-of-care.