Microfluidic fabrication of complex-shaped microfibers by liquid template-aided multiphase microflow†
This study presents a simple microfluidic approach to the rapid fabrication of complex-shaped microfibers (e.g., single hollow, double hollow, and microbelt), with highly uniform structures, based on a combination of the spontaneous formation of polymeric jet streams and in situphotopolymerization. Two laminar flows of a photocurable fluid and a liquid template (nonpolymerizing fluid) spontaneously form jet streams in equilibrium states in microfluidic channels because of the minimization of the interfacial energy between the two fluids. The formation of the jet streams strongly depends on the spreading coefficients and the evolution time along the downstream of the microfluidic system. Thus, the simple control of the spreading coefficients can guide microfibers into various shapes. The sizes of the core and shell of the hollow fibers can also be readily manipulated by the flow rates of the polymerizing fluid and the liquid template phase. Asymmetric hollow fibers can also be produced in different evolutionary states in the microfluidic system. The microfluidic approach shown here represents a significant step toward the easy fabrication of microfibers with readily controllable structures and geometries. We anticipate that this novel fabrication approach and the prediction method based on spreading coefficients presented in this work can be applied to produce a wide variety of functional microfibrous materials.