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Microreactor makes uniform particles

Design of microfluidic device makes it insensitive to variations in input pressures and flow rates

by Mitch Jacoby
February 29, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 9

A newly designed microfluidic flow reactor with multiple outlet ports produces highly uniform product droplets despite variations in input pressures and flow rates (Nat. Commun. 2016, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10780). Compared with typical batch reactors, miniature flow reactors can provide greater control over mixing and temperature distributions, which are crucial for maintaining product uniformity. A simple approach to scaling up the output of such systems uses an array of parallel flow reactors. But in that approach, variations in reactant pressures and flow rates cause “crosstalk” between the branches of the network, leading to nonuniform products. A University of Southern California (USC) team that includes Noah Malmstadt and Richard L. Brutchey has bypassed this problem by 3-D printing a novel droplet generator with a geometry that is unlike typical T-junction droplet-forming devices. The team used the device to make platinum nanoparticles encapsulated in ionic liquid solvent droplets. They showed that the particles were highly uniform even when the input branches of the device were supplied with reagents at various pressures. They explain that unlike in T-junction devices, in the USC device, which can be used to make droplets with volumes spanning four orders of magnitude, the size of the droplets depends only on the diameter of the easily swapped outlet tubing.

This image shows drawings of a reagent supply manifold and droplet generator and micrograph of the droplet generator.
Credit: Nat. Commun.
This 3-D printed generator (left, top) yields uniform droplets (right) even when reagents are delivered at varying pressures.


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