Abiotic streamers in a microfluidic system†
In this work, we report the phenomenon of formation of particle aggregates in the form of thin slender strings when a polyacrylamide (PAM) solution, laden with polystyrene (PS) beads is introduced into a microfluidic device containing an array of micropillars. PAM and a dilute solution of PS beads are introduced into the microfluidic channel through two separate inlets and localized particle aggregation is found to occur under certain flow regimes. The particle aggregates initially have a string-like morphology and are tethered at their ends to the micropillar walls, while the structure remains suspended in the fluid medium. Such a morphology inspired us to name these structures streamers. The flow regimes under which streamer formation is observed are quantified through state diagrams. We discuss the streamer formation time-scales and also show that streamer formation is likely the result of the flocculation of PS beads. Streamer formation has implications in investigating particle-laden complex flows through porous media.