Synchronizing Microfluidic Drops

In-phase synchronized droplet production in a microfluidic channel.

In nature, synchronization occurs when oscillators interact. A group of metronomes shifting to tick in unison is a classic example. Here, the system is a microfluidic T-junction and the oscillators are the liquid interfaces along the narrower inlet channels. Systems like this one have long been used to create alternating droplets (Image 1), corresponding to out-of-phase synchronization. But a new paper shows that the same system can perform in-phase synchronization (Image 2), too, generating droplets at the same time.

For any synchronization to occur, the main channel must be narrow enough for the two side channels to influence one another. Once that’s the case, the out-of-phase synchronization happens at a relatively high flow rate, and lowering the flow rate causes the system to transition to in-phase synchronization. (Image and research credit: E. Um et al.; submitted by Joonwoo J.)

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