Making Reconfigurable Liquid Circuits

This microfluidic circuit uses water channels held in place by solid pillars immersed in oil. The printed circuit mixes two liquids.

Microfluidic circuits are key to “labs on a chip” used in medical diagnostics, inkjet printing, and basic research. Typically, channels in these circuits are printed or etched onto solid surfaces, making it difficult to reconfigure them. A group in China developed an alternative design, inspired by reconfigurable toys like Lego blocks. Their set-up, shown above, uses a pillared surface immersed in oil. To create the channels, they pipette water — one droplet at a time — into the space between pillars. The combination of oil and pillars traps the drop. With multiple drops linked together, they get channels, like the ones above that mix two fluids. When the time comes to reconfigure the channels, they just pipette the water out and cut the channel with a sheet of coated paper. (Image and research credit: Y. Zeng et al.; via Physics Today)

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