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Department of Chemical Engineering


Dielectrophoresis (DEP), a precision nonlinear electrokinetic tool utilized within microfluidic devices, can induce bioparticle polarization that manifests as motion in the electric field; this phenomenon has been leveraged for phenotypic cellular and biomolecular detection, making DEP invaluable for diagnostic applications. As device operation times lengthen, reproducibility and precision decrease, which has been postulated to be caused by ion gradients within the supporting electrolyte medium. This research focuses on characterizing pH gradients above, at, and below the electrode charging frequency (0.2–1.4 times charging frequency) in an aqueous electrolyte solution in order to extend the parameter space for which microdevice-imposed artifacts on cells in clinical diagnostic devices have been characterized. The nonlinear alternating current (AC) electric fields (0.07 Vpp/μm) required for DEP were generated via planar T-shaped and star-shaped microelectrodes overlaid by a 70 μm high microfluidic chamber. The experiments were designed to quantify pH changes temporally and spatially in the two microelectrode geometries. In parallel, a 50 nm hafnium oxide (HfO2) thin film on the microelectrodes was tested to provide insights into the role of Faradaic surface reactions on the pH. Electric field simulations were conducted to provide insights into the gradient shape within the microelectrode geometries. Frequency dependence was also examined to ascertain ion electromigration effects above, at, and below the electrode charging frequency. The results revealed Faradaic reactions above, at, and below the electrode charging frequency. Comparison experiments further demonstrated that pH changes caused by Faradaic reactions increased inversely with frequency and were more pronounced in the star-shaped geometry. Finally, HfO2 films demonstrated frequency-dependent properties, impeding Faradaic reactions.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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