Dynamic self-assembly and control of microfluidic particle crystals.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

PubMedID: 21149674

Lee W, Amini H, Stone HA, Di Carlo D. Dynamic self-assembly and control of microfluidic particle crystals. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2010;107(52):22413-8.
Engineered two-phase microfluidic systems have recently shown promise for computation, encryption, and biological processing. For many of these systems, complex control of dispersed-phase frequency and switching is enabled by nonlinearities associated with interfacial stresses. Introducing nonlinearity associated with fluid inertia has recently been identified as an easy to implement strategy to control two-phase (solid-liquid) microscale flows. By taking advantage of inertial effects we demonstrate controllable self-assembling particle systems, uncover dynamics suggesting a unique mechanism of dynamic self-assembly, and establish a framework for engineering microfluidic structures with the possibility of spatial frequency filtering. Focusing on the dynamics of the particle-particle interactions reveals a mechanism for the dynamic self-assembly process; inertial lift forces and a parabolic flow field act together to stabilize interparticle spacings that otherwise would diverge to infinity due to viscous disturbance flows. The interplay of the repulsive viscous interaction and inertial lift also allow us to design and implement microfluidic structures that irreversibly change interparticle spacing, similar to a low-pass filter. Although often not considered at the microscale, nonlinearity due to inertia can provide a platform for high-throughput passive control of particle positions in all directions, which will be useful for applications in flow cytometry, tissue engineering, and metamaterial synthesis.