Microfluidic enhancement of self-assembly systems
Dynamic, kinetically-controlled, self-assembly processes are commonly observed in nature and are capable of creating intricate, functional architectures from simple precursors. However, notably, much of the research into molecular self-assembly has been performed using conventional bulk techniques where the resultant species are dictated by thermodynamic stability to yield relatively simple assemblies. Whereas, the environmental control offered by microfluidic systems offers methods to achieve non-equilibrium reaction conditions capable of increasingly sophisticated self-assembled structures. Alterations to the immediate microenvironment during the assembly of the molecules is possible, providing the basis for kinetically-controlled assembly. This review examines the key mechanism offered by microfluidic systems and the architectures required to access them. The mechanisms include diffusion-led mixing, shear gradient alignment, spatial and temporal confinement, and structural templates in multiphase systems. The works are selected and categorised in terms of the microfluidic approaches taken rather than the chemical constructs which are formed.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Lab on a Chip HOT Articles 2021