Nitrate measurement in droplet flow: gas-mediated crosstalk and correction†
In droplet microfluidics, droplets have traditionally been considered discrete self-contained reaction chambers, however recent work has shown that dissolved solutes can transfer into the oil phase and migrate into neighbouring droplets under certain conditions. The majority of reports on such inter-droplet “crosstalk” have focused on surfactant-driven mechanisms, such as transport within micelles. While trialling a droplet-based system for quantifying nitrate in water, we encountered crosstalk driven by a very different mechanism: conversion of the analyte to a gaseous intermediate which subsequently diffused between droplets. Importantly we found that the crosstalk occurred predictably, could be experimentally quantified, and measurements rationally post-corrected. This showed that droplet microfluidic systems susceptible to crosstalk such as this can nonetheless be used for quantitative analysis.