Diffusive spreading of time-dependent pressures in elastic microfluidic devices
Here we show that transient flow of Newtonian fluids in viscoelastic PDMS microfluidic channels can be described by a diffusive pressure spreading mechanism analogous to the electric telegrapher's equation. The pressure diffusion constant Dp = 1/RxCx of a channel with length l is determined by the hydrodynamic resistance Rx and capacitance Cx per unit length of the channel. l2/Dp sets the timescale for the transmission of pressure steps along the channel and the relaxation after a pressure step in steady state flow. For oscillatory flows, the channel acts as a low-pass filter with a cutoff frequency ωcutoff = 2πDpl−2, so that pressure and flow rate pulses disperse and get smoothed while they travel along the channel. The combination of different microparticle tracking techniques allows the determination of pressure and flow profiles at any point in the channel and excellent agreement with theoretical predictions is obtained.