Dynamics of capillary transport in semi-solid channels
Capillary action has been described by Lucas and Washburn and extensively studied experimentally in hard materials, but few studies have examined capillary action in soft materials such as hydrogels. In tissue engineering, cells or dispersions must be often distributed within a hydrogel via microporous paths. Capillary action is one way to disperse such substances. Here, we examine the dynamics of capillary action in a model system of straight capillaries in two hydrogels. The channels had a circular cross-section in the micrometer size range (180–630 μm). The distance travelled over time was recorded and compared with the predictions of Lucas and Washburn. Besides water, we used a sucrose solution and a hydroxyethyl cellulose solution, both with viscosities slightly higher than that of water. The results showed that the distance travelled is proportional to the square root of time, , and that larger capillaries and lower viscosities result, as expected, in faster speeds. However, the absolute experimental values display large discrepancies from the predictions. We demonstrate that several possible reasons for these discrepancies can be ruled out and we describe a novel hypothesis for the cause of the retarded meniscus movement.