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Issue 14, 2019
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Nip the bubble in the bud: a guide to avoid gas nucleation in microfluidics

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Gas bubbles are almost a routine occurrence encountered by researchers working in the field of microfluidics. The spontaneous and unexpected nature of gas bubbles represents a major challenge for experimentalists and a stumbling block for the translation of microfluidic concepts to commercial products. This is a startling example of successful scientific results in the field overshadowing the practical hurdles of day-to-day usage. We however believe such hurdles can be overcome with a sound understanding of the underlying conditions that lead to bubble formation. In this tutorial, we focus on the two main conditions that result in bubble nucleation: surface nuclei and gas supersaturation in liquids. Key theoretical concepts such as Henry's law, Laplace pressure, the role of surface properties, nanobubbles and surfactants are presented along with a view of practical implementations that serve as preventive and curative measures. These considerations include not only microfluidic chip design and bubble traps but also often-overlooked conditions that regulate bubble formation, such as gas saturation under pressure or temperature gradients. Scenarios involving electrolysis, laser and acoustic cavitation or T-junction/co-flow geometries are also explored to provide the reader with a broader understanding on the topic. Interestingly, despite their often-disruptive nature, gas bubbles have also been cleverly utilized for certain practical applications, which we briefly review. We hope this tutorial will provide a reference guide in helping to deal with a familiar foe, the “bubble”.

Graphical abstract: Nip the bubble in the bud: a guide to avoid gas nucleation in microfluidics

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Article information

28 Feb 2019
10 May 2019
First published
06 Jun 2019

Lab Chip, 2019,19, 2296-2314
Article type
Tutorial Review

Nip the bubble in the bud: a guide to avoid gas nucleation in microfluidics

I. Pereiro, A. Fomitcheva Khartchenko, L. Petrini and G. V. Kaigala, Lab Chip, 2019, 19, 2296
DOI: 10.1039/C9LC00211A

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