A rapid and variable-volume sample loading scheme for chip-based sieving electrophoresis was developed by negative pressure combined with electrokinetic force. This was achieved by using a low-cost microvacuum pump and a single potential supply at a constant voltage. Both 12% linear polyacrylamide (LPA) with a high viscosity of 15000 cP and 2% hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC) with a low viscosity of 102 cP were chosen as the sieving materials to study the behavior and the versatility of the proposed method. To reduce the hydrodynamic resistance in the sampling channel, sieving material was only filled in the separation channel between the buffer waste reservoir (BW) to the edge of the crossed intersection. By applying a subambient pressure to the headspace of sample waste reservoir (SW), sample and buffer solution were drawn immediately from sample reservoir (S) and buffer reservoir (B) across the intersection to SW. At the same time, the charged sample in the sample flow was driven across the interface between the sample flow and the sieving matrix into the sieving material filled separation channel by the applied electric field. The injected sample plug length is in proportion with the loading time. Once the vacuum in SW reservoir was released to activate electrophoretic separation, flows from S and B to SW were immediately terminated by the back flow induced by the difference of the liquid levels in the reservoirs to prevent sample leakage during the separation stage. The sample consumption was about 1.7 × 102 nL at a loading time of 1 s for each cycle. Only 0.024 s was required to transport bias-free analyte to the injection point. It is easy to freely choose the sample plug volume in this method by simply changing the loading time and to inject high quality sample plug with non-distorted shape into the separation channel. The system has been proved to possess an exciting potential for improving throughput, repeatability, sensitivity and separation performance of chip-based sieving electrophoresis.
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