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Issue 13, 2009
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Nucleation and solidification in static arrays of monodisperse drops

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The precise measurement of nucleation and non-equilibrium solidification are vital to fields as diverse as atmospheric science, food processing, cryopreservation and metallurgy. The emulsion technique, where the phase under study is partitioned into many droplets suspended within an immiscible continuous phase, is a powerful method for uncovering rates of nucleation and dynamics of phase changes as it isolates nucleation events to single droplets. However, averaging the behavior of many drops in a bulk emulsion leads to the loss of any drop-specific information, and drop polydispersity clouds the analysis. Here we adapt a microfluidic technique for trapping monodisperse drops in planar arrays to characterize solidification of highly supercooled aqueous solutions of glycerol. This system measured rates of nucleation between 10−5 and 10−2 pL−1 s−1, yielded an ice-water interfacial energy of 33.4 mJ m−2 between −38 and −35 °C, and enabled the specific dynamics of solidification to be observed for over a hundred drops in parallel without any loss of specificity. In addition to the physical insights gained, the ability to observe the time and temperature of nucleation and subsequent growth of the solid phase in static arrays of uniform drops provides a powerful tool to discover thermodynamic protocols that generate desirable crystal structures.

Graphical abstract: Nucleation and solidification in static arrays of monodisperse drops

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Article information

04 Dec 2008
12 Mar 2009
First published
03 Apr 2009

Lab Chip, 2009,9, 1859-1865
Article type

Nucleation and solidification in static arrays of monodisperse drops

J. F. Edd, K. J. Humphry, D. Irimia, D. A. Weitz and M. Toner, Lab Chip, 2009, 9, 1859
DOI: 10.1039/B821785H

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