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Issue 13, 2015
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Bubble pump: scalable strategy for in-plane liquid routing

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We present an on-chip liquid routing technique intended for application in well-based microfluidic systems that require long-term active pumping at low to medium flowrates. Our technique requires only one fluidic feature layer, one pneumatic control line and does not rely on flexible membranes and mechanical or moving parts. The presented bubble pump is therefore compatible with both elastomeric and rigid substrate materials and the associated scalable manufacturing processes. Directed liquid flow was achieved in a microchannel by an in-series configuration of two previously described “bubble gates”, i.e., by gas-bubble enabled miniature gate valves. Only one time-dependent pressure signal is required and initiates at the upstream (active) bubble gate a reciprocating bubble motion. Applied at the downstream (passive) gate a time-constant gas pressure level is applied. In its rest state, the passive gate remains closed and only temporarily opens while the liquid pressure rises due to the active gate's reciprocating bubble motion. We have designed, fabricated and consistently operated our bubble pump with a variety of working liquids for >72 hours. Flow rates of 0–5.5 μl min−1, were obtained and depended on the selected geometric dimensions, working fluids and actuation frequencies. The maximum operational pressure was 2.9 kPa–9.1 kPa and depended on the interfacial tension of the working fluids. Attainable flow rates compared favorably with those of available micropumps. We achieved flow rate enhancements of 30–100% by operating two bubble pumps in tandem and demonstrated scalability of the concept in a multi-well format with 12 individually and uniformly perfused microchannels (variation in flow rate <7%). We envision the demonstrated concept to allow for the consistent on-chip delivery of a wide range of different liquids that may even include highly reactive or moisture sensitive solutions. The presented bubble pump may provide active flow control for analytical and point-of-care diagnostic devices, as well as for microfluidic cells culture and organ-on-chip platforms.

Graphical abstract: Bubble pump: scalable strategy for in-plane liquid routing

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The article was received on 17 Mar 2015, accepted on 19 May 2015 and first published on 19 May 2015

Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/C5LC00326A
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Citation: Lab Chip, 2015,15, 2842-2853

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    Bubble pump: scalable strategy for in-plane liquid routing

    A. Oskooei and A. Günther, Lab Chip, 2015, 15, 2842
    DOI: 10.1039/C5LC00326A

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