Parallel synchronization of two trains of droplets using a railroad-like channel network†
We present a simple method of water-in-oil droplet synchronization in a railroad-like channel network. The network consisted of a top channel, a bottom channel, and ladder-like channels interconnected between the two main channels. The presence of the pressure difference between the top and bottom channels resulted in the crossflow of carrier oil through the ladder network until the pressure in each channel was balanced automatically. The proposed model and method proved the feasibility of the parallel synchronization of two trains of droplets with up to 95% synchronization efficiency. Physical parameters that could improve the efficiency were investigated with the systematic variation of the droplet length and droplet generation frequency by controlling the flow rate in each channel. Under a subtle difference in the generation frequency, an unmatched droplet sandwiched between two matched droplets in the ladder network was switched and synchronized in turn. For perfect one-to-one droplet synchronization, the droplet length and the droplet generation frequency needed to be the same for both the top and bottom channels. In addition, one-to-multiple droplet synchronization was demonstrated by matching the product of the droplet length and the droplet generation frequency for both the top and bottom channels. The proposed method provides a simple unit operation for parallel synchronization of the trains of droplets that can be easily integrated with the conventional continuous-flow droplet-based microfluidic platform.