Microfluidic pumping, routing and metering by contactless metal-based electro-osmosis
Over the past decade, many microfluidic platforms for fluid processing have been developed in order to perform on-chip fluidic manipulations. Many of these methods, however, require expensive and bulky external supporting equipment, which are not typically applicable for microsystems requiring portability. We have developed a new type of portable contactless metal electro-osmotic micropump capable of on-chip fluid pumping, routing and metering. The pump operates using two pairs of gallium metal electrodes, which are activated using an external voltage source, and separated from a main flow channel by a thin micron-scale PDMS membrane. The thin contactless membrane allows for field penetration and electro-osmotic (EO) flow within the microchannel, but eliminates electrode damage and sample contamination commonly associated with traditional DC electro-osmotic pumps that utilize electrodes in direct contact with the working fluid. The maximum flow rates and pressures generated by the pump using DI water as a working buffer are 10 nL min−1 and 30 Pa, respectively. With our current design, the maximum operational conductivity where fluid flow is observed is 0.1 mS cm−1. Due to the small size and simple fabrication procedure, multiple micropump units can be integrated into a single microfluidic device for automated on-chip routing and sample metering applications. We experimentally demonstrated the ability to quantify micropump electro-osmotic flowrate and pressure as a function of applied voltage, and developed a mathematical model capable of predicting the performance of a contactless micropump for a given external load and internal hydrodynamic microchannel resistance. Finally, we showed that by activating specific pumps within a microchannel network, our micropumps are capable of routing microchannel fluid flow and generating plugs of solute.