Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 21230777
Phys. Rev. Lett. 2010 Sep;105(13):134501
The transport of liquid plugs in a microfluidic branching tree is studied experimentally. The global flow pattern can be either symmetric or asymmetric, with daughter plugs dividing in synchrony or asynchrony as a function of the driving flow rate and the network geometry. For trees with narrowing channels, the plugs always reach the exits even at low flow rates. In contrast, only one path is opened in networks with widening channels when the flow rate is low. This behavior is explained by a comparison of the pressure drop necessary to drive viscocapillary motion of plugs in straight channels with the nonlinear pressure variations as a plug passes a bifurcation. A model is built, which predicts that only narrowing networks can be fully filled, while widening networks can never be fully invaded by a two-phase flow.