Wetting-induced formation of controllable monodisperse multiple emulsions in microfluidics†
Multiple emulsions, which are widely applied in a myriad of fields because of their unique ability to encapsulate and protect active ingredients, are typically produced by sequential drop-formations and drop-encapsulations using shear-induced emulsification. Here we report a qualitatively novel method of creating highly controlled multiple emulsions from lower-order emulsions. By carefully controlling the interfacial energies, we adjust the spreading coefficients between different phases to cause drops of one fluid to completely engulf other drops of immiscible fluids; as a result multiple emulsions are directly formed by simply putting preformed lower-order emulsion drops together. Our approach has highly controllable flexibility. We demonstrate this in preparation of both double and triple emulsions with a controlled number of inner drops and precisely adjusted shell thicknesses including ultra-thin shells. Moreover, this controllable drop-engulfing-drop approach has a high potential in further investigations and applications of microfluidics. Importantly, this innovative approach opens a window to exploit new phenomena occurring in fluids at the microscale level, which is of great significance for developing novel microfluidics.