Electroosmotic Flow Characterization and Enhancement in PDMS Microchannels
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Electroosmotic flow is widely used as a solution pumping method in numerous microfluidic applications. This type of flow has several advantages over other pumping techniques, such as the fast response time, the ease of control and integration in different microchannel designs. The flow utilizes the scaling of channel dimensions, which enhances the effects of the electrostatic forces to create flow in microchannels under an electrical body force. However, the electrostatic properties of the solution/wall material pairings are unique and must be experimentally measured. As a consequence, accurate knowledge about the electrostatic properties of the solution and wall material pairings is important for the optimal design of microfluidic devices using electroosmotic flow. Moreover, the introduction of new solutions and new channel materials for different applications is common in the microfluidics area. Therefore, any improvement on the experimental techniques used to examine the electrostatic properties of microchannels is beneficial to the research community. In this work, an improvement to the current-monitoring technique for studying the electrokinetic properties of microchannels is achieved by replacing the conventional straight channel design with a new Y-channel design. The errors from both the undesired pressure driven flow and solution electrolysis were addressed and significantly reduced. The new design offers high accuracy in finding the electrokinetic properties of microchannels. The experimental outcome from the new channel design is better compared to the outcomes of the straight channel, which helps in distinguishing the important electroosmotic pumping regions from the current-time plot. Moreover the time effectiveness in performing the experiments with the new channel design is better compared to that for the straight channel design. A modified analysis approach is also presented and validated for finding the electrokinetic properties from the outcomes of the current-monitoring technique, which is called the current-slope method. This approach is validated by comparing its findings with the results of the conventional length method. It was found for most situations that the discrepancy between the two methods, the current-slope and total length method, are within the uncertainty of the experimental measurements, thus validating the new analysis approach. In situations where it is hard to distinguish the start and end of solution replacement from the current-time plot of the current-monitoring technique, the current-slope method is advised. With the new design, different parametric studies of electroosmotic flow in PDMS based microchannels are estimated. At first the zeta potential of biological buffers are studied. Moreover the effect of continuous electroosmotic pumping, the chip substrate structure, and temperature on the average zeta potential of microchannels are examined. It was found that for air plasma treated PDMS microchannels the chip substrate material does not have an effect on the average zeta potential of the microchannels. The following chemical treatments are attempted with the aim of improving the surface and electrostatic properties of PDMS based microchannels: prepolymer additive with acrylic acid, extraction of PDMS, and both heat and plasma induced HEMA (Hydroxyethyl methacrylate) grafting on the surface of PDMS. Extensive characterization is performed with different experimental methods. The stability of the artificial hydrophilic properties of the PDMS microchannels with time was improved with both the extraction and HEMA grafting techniques. On the other hand, there was no evidence of any improvement in the zeta potential of microchannels with the surface treatments.