Particle alignment in a viscoelastic liquid flowing in a square-shaped microchannel†
We demonstrate the possibility to achieve 3D particle focusing in a straight microchannel with a square cross-section by exploiting purely viscoelastic effects. Experiments are carried out by considering an elastic, constant-viscosity aqueous solution of PVP (polyvinylpyrrolidone) as the suspending liquid. Several flow rates and two channel dimensions (with a fixed particle size to channel dimension ratio) are investigated. A novel technique combining particle tracking measurements and numerical simulations is used to reconstruct the position of the flowing particles over the channel cross-section. The results show that, for all the investigated experimental conditions, particles migrate towards the channel centerline. Flow-focusing is enhanced by higher flow rates. The measured particle fractions can be rescaled according to a single dimensionless parameter, as already reported in the literature for the case of cylindrical channels. The so-obtained master curve can be used as a guide to predict the required focusing length. The effect of the entrance on the focusing channel length is also addressed. Finally, analogies and discrepancies with similar previous works are discussed.