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Issue 31, 2013
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A study of extensional flow induced coalescence in microfluidic geometries with lateral channels

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The coupled mechanisms of extensional coalescence and subsequent shape relaxation can lead to catastrophic destabilization of moderately concentrated emulsions. We demonstrate that application of local extensional flow through the use of small lateral channels allows controlled, systematic investigation of both single drop pair and propagating (avalanche) coalescence through a chain of drops. Drop–drop collisions and separations were controlled independently, and did not significantly disturb the primary flow. The probability of the first coalescence event was controlled by bulk flow parameters, allowing for systematic investigation of these phenomena. Simulations with COMSOL® were used in order to quantify and thus validate various assumptions relating to the flow characteristics of our setup. For the configurations tested, the droplet pair separation speed increased linearly with the lateral channel infusion rate. Flows were laminar and collision conditions remained stable until a first coalescence event between a pair of drops was triggered by the superposed local extensional flow field close to the lateral channels. Results are described in terms of coalescence probability versus separation capillary number (Casep). For all systems tested, an upper limit value Ca*sep was observed, above which coalescence did not occur. The probability and length of upstream coalescence propagation induced by the drop shape relaxation following the initial, triggered event are reported. Drop–drop contact times were varied by injecting fluid using different combinations of lateral channels. Ca*sep shifted to a higher value for a given system as the lubricating film drained for a longer time, which, in addition, increased the probability and length of an avalanche of events. The present results demonstrate how microfluidic tools can be used for systematically mapping the most probable behavior of complex systems with respect to coalescence under well controlled hydrodynamic conditions. In general we observe that larger drops, slower separation and higher surfactant concentration favour extensional coalescence and its propagation, in agreement with earlier published experimental studies.

Graphical abstract: A study of extensional flow induced coalescence in microfluidic geometries with lateral channels

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Supplementary files

Article information

15 Mar 2013
28 May 2013
First published
29 May 2013

Soft Matter, 2013,9, 7526-7537
Article type

A study of extensional flow induced coalescence in microfluidic geometries with lateral channels

D. Z. Gunes, M. Bercy, B. Watzke, O. Breton and A. S. Burbidge, Soft Matter, 2013, 9, 7526
DOI: 10.1039/C3SM50751C

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