Simultaneous electric production and sizing of emulsion droplets in microfluidics†
Microscale emulsions are widely used in fundamental and applied sciences. To expand their utilization, various methods have been developed for manipulating and measuring the physical properties of fabricated emulsions inside microchannels. Herein, we present an electric emulsification platform that can produce emulsions and simultaneously detect their physical properties (size and production speed). The characterization of the emulsion properties during the fabrication process will broaden the application fields for microscale emulsions because it can avoid time-consuming post image processing and simplify the emulsification platform. To accomplish this, a “bottleneck” channel is implanted between two reservoirs of immiscible fluids (continuous and dispersion phases). This channel can not only confine one fluid within the other when the electric field is on, resulting in emulsification via electrohydrodynamically induced Rayleigh instability, but also act as a resistive pulse sensor (RPS). The fluctuation of the liquid/liquid interface during emulsification induces the fluctuation of the electric resistance in the bottleneck channel, as the two fluid phases have different electrical conductivities. With this simple but dual-functional channel, the emulsion size (radius of 5–10 μm) and production speed (7–12 Hz) can be controlled by adjusting the electric field and the channel-neck geometry. Additionally, the properties can be measured using the RPS; the data obtained through the RPS exhibit high correlations with the validated data obtained using a high-speed camera and microscopy (>95%). The proposed buffer-less electric emulsification with the embedded RPS is a simple and cost-effective emulsion production method that allows real-time emulsion characterization with a limited sample volume.