Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Chemical Engineering (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Chemical Engineering

Advisor 1

Adrienne Minerick

Committee Member 1

Rebecca Ong

Committee Member 2

Faith Morrison

Committee Member 3

Gowtham S


Lab-on-a-chip (LOC) technologies enable the development of portable analysis devices that use small sample and reagent volumes, allow for multiple unit operations, and couple with detectors to achieve high resolution and sensitivity, while having small footprints, low cost, short analysis times, and portability. Droplet microfluidics is a subset of LOCs with the unique benefit of enabling parallel analysis since each droplet can be utilized as an isolated microenvironment. This work explored adaptation of droplet microfluidics into a unique, previously unexplored application where the water/oil interface was harnessed to bend electric field lines within individual droplets for insulator dielectrophoretic (iDEP) characterizations. iDEP polarizes particles/cells within non-uniform electric fields shaped by insulating geometries. We termed this unique combination of droplet microfluidics and iDEP reverse insulator dielectrophoresis (riDEP). This riDEP approach has the potential to protect cell samples from unwanted sample-electrode interactions and decrease the number of required experiments for dielectrophoretic characterization by ~80% by harnessing the parallelization power of droplet microfluidics. Future research opportunities are discussed that could improve this reduction further to 93%.

A microfluidic device was designed where aqueous-in-oil droplets were generated in a microchannel T-junction and packed into a microchamber. Reproducible droplets were achieved at the T-junction and were stable over long time periods in the microchamber using Krytox FSH 157 surfactant in the continuous oil FC-40 phase and isotonic salts and dextrose solutions as the dispersed aqueous phase. Surfactant, salts, and dextrose interact at the droplet interface influencing interfacial tension and droplet stability. Results provide foundational knowledge for engineering stable bio- and electro-compatible droplet microfluidic platforms.

Electrodes were added to the microdevice to apply an electric field across the droplet packed chamber and explore riDEP responses. Operating windows for droplet stability were shown to depend on surfactant concentration in the oil phase and aqueous phase conductivity, where different voltage/frequency combinations resulted in either stable droplets or electrocoalescence. Experimental results provided a stability map for strategical applied electric field selection to avoid adverse droplet morphological changes while inducing riDEP. Within the microdevice, both polystyrene beads and red blood cells demonstrated weak dielectrophoretic responses, as evidenced by pearl-chain formation, confirming the preliminary feasibility of riDEP as a potential characterization technique.

Two additional side projects included an alternative approach to isolate electrode surface reactions from the cell suspension via a hafnium oxide film over the electrodes. In addition, a commercially prevalent water-based polymer emulsion was found to adequately duplicate microchannel and microchamber features such that it could be used for microdevice replication.