Lien vers Pubmed [PMID] – 23284169
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2013 Jan;110(3):853-8
The miniaturization of droplet manipulation methods has led to drops being proposed as microreactors in many applications of biology and chemistry. In parallel, microfluidic methods have been applied to generate monodisperse emulsions for applications in the pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and food industries. To date, microfluidic droplet production has been dominated by a few designs that use hydrodynamic forces, resulting from the flowing fluids, to break drops at a junction. Here we present a platform for droplet generation and manipulation that does not depend on the fluid flows. Instead, we use devices that incorporate height variations to subject the immiscible interfaces to gradients of confinement. The resulting curvature imbalance along the interface causes the detachment of monodisperse droplets, without the need for a flow of the external phase. Once detached, the drops are self-propelled due to the gradient of surface energy. We show that the size of the drops is determined by the device geometry; it is insensitive to the physical fluid properties and depends very weakly on the flow rate of the dispersed phase. This allows us to propose a geometric theoretical model that predicts the dependence of droplet size on the geometric parameters, which is in agreement with experimental measurements. The approach presented here can be applied in a wide range of standard applications, while simplifying the device operations. We demonstrate examples for single-droplet operations and high-throughput generation of emulsions, all of which are performed in simple and inexpensive devices.