Autonomous microfluidic capillaric circuits replicated from 3D-printed molds
We recently developed capillaric circuits (CCs) – advanced capillary microfluidic devices assembled from capillary fluidic elements in a modular manner similar to the design of electric circuits (Safavieh & Juncker, Lab Chip, 2013, 13, 4180–4189). CCs choreograph liquid delivery operations according to pre-programmed capillary pressure differences with minimal user intervention. CCs were thought to require high-precision micron-scale features manufactured by conventional photolithography, which is slow and expensive. Here we present CCs manufactured rapidly and inexpensively using 3D-printed molds. Molds for CCs were fabricated with a benchtop 3D-printer, poly(dimethylsiloxane) replicas were made, and fluidic functionality was verified with aqueous solutions. We established design rules for CCs by a combination of modelling and experimentation. The functionality and reliability of trigger valves – an essential fluidic element that stops one liquid until flow is triggered by a second liquid – was tested for different geometries and different solutions. Trigger valves with geometries up to 80-fold larger than cleanroom-fabricated ones were found to function reliably. We designed retention burst valves that encode sequential liquid delivery using capillary pressure differences encoded by systematically varied heights and widths. Using an electrical circuit analogue of the CC, we established design rules to ensure strictly sequential liquid delivery. CCs autonomously delivered eight liquids in a pre-determined sequence in <7 min. Taken together, our results demonstrate that 3D-printing lowers the bar for other researchers to access capillary microfluidic valves and CCs for autonomous liquid delivery with applications in diagnostics, research and education.