Fabrication of microscale materials with programmable composition gradients†
We present an original microfluidic technique coupling pervaporation and the use of Quake valves to fabricate microscale materials (∼10 × 100 μm2 × 1 cm) with composition gradients along their longest dimension. Our device exploits pervaporation of water through a thin poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) membrane to continuously pump solutions (or dispersions) contained in different reservoirs connected to a microfluidic channel. This pervaporation-induced flow concentrates solutes (or particles) at the tip of the channel up to the formation of a dense material. The latter invades the channel as it is constantly enriched by an incoming flux of solutes/particles. Upstream Quake valves are used to select which reservoir is connected to the pervaporation channel and thus which solution (or dispersion) enriches the material during its growth. The microfluidic configuration of the pervaporation process is used to impose controlled growth along the channel thus enabling one to program spatial composition gradients using appropriate actuations of the valves. We demonstrate the possibilities offered by our technique through the fabrication of dense assemblies of nanoparticles and polymer composites with programmed gradients of fluorescent dyes. We also address the key issue of the spatial resolution of our gradients and we show that well-defined spatial modulations down to ≈50 μm can be obtained within colloidal materials, whereas gradients within polymer materials are resolved on length scales down to ≈1 mm due to molecular diffusion.