In lab-on-chip devices, on which complete (bio-)chemical analysis laboratories are miniaturized and integrated, it is essential to manipulate fluids in sub-millimetre channels and sub-microlitre chambers. A special challenge in these small micro-fluidic systems is to create good mixing flows, since it is almost impossible to generate turbulence. We propose an active micro-fluidic mixing concept inspired by nature, namely by micro-organisms that swim through a liquid by oscillating microscopic hairs, cilia, that cover their surface. We have fabricated artificial cilia consisting of electro-statically actuated polymer structures, and have integrated these in a micro-fluidic channel. Flow visualization experiments show that the cilia can generate substantial fluid velocities, up to 0.6 mm s−1. In addition, very efficient mixing is obtained using specially designed geometrical cilia configurations in a micro-channel. Since the artificial cilia can be actively controlled using electrical signals, they have exciting applications in micro-fluidic devices.
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