Electronic drop sensing in microfluidic devices: automated operation of a nanoliter viscometer
We describe three droplet sensing techniques: a digital electrode, an analog electrode, and a thermal method. All three techniques use a single layer of metal lines that is easy to microfabricate and an electronic signal can be produced using low DC voltages. While the electrode methods utilize changes in electrical conductivity when the air/liquid interface of the droplet passes over a pair of electrodes, the thermal method is based on convective heat loss from a locally heated region. For the electrode method, the analog technique is able to detect 25 nL droplets while the digital technique is capable of detecting droplets as small as 100 pL. For thermal sensing, temperature profiles in the range of 36 °C and higher were used. Finally, we have used the digital electrode method and an array of electrodes located at preset distances to automate the operation of a previously described microfluidic viscometer. The viscometer is completely controlled by a laptop computer, and the total time for operation including setup, calibration, sample addition and viscosity calculation is approximately 4 minutes.