Monitoring reactive microencapsulation dynamics using microfluidics
We use microfluidic polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) devices to measure the kinetics of reactive encapsulations occurring at the interface of emulsion droplets. The formation of the polymeric shell is inferred from the droplet deformability measured in a series of expansion–constriction chambers along the microfluidic chip. With this tool we quantify the kinetic processes governing the encapsulation at the very early stage of shell formation with a time resolution of the order of the millisecond for overall reactions occurring in less than 0.5 s. We perform a comparison of monomer reactivities used for the encapsulation. We study the formation of polyurea microcapsules (PUMCs); the shell formation proceeds at the water–oil interface by an immediate reaction of amines dissolved in the aqueous phase and isocyanates dissolved in the oil phase. We observe that both monomers contribute differently to the encapsulation kinetics. The kinetics of the shell formation process at the oil-in-water (O/W) experiments significantly differs from the water-in-oil (W/O) systems; the component dissolved in the continuous phase has the largest impact on the kinetics. In addition, we quantified the retarding effect on the encapsulation kinetics by the interface stabilizing agent (surfactant). Our approach is valuable for quantifying in situ reactive encapsulation processes and provides guidelines to generate microcapsules with soft interfaces of tailored and controllable interfacial properties.