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Morphology and development of droplet deformation under flow within microfluidic devices

Molly K Mulligan, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Microfluidics is the science of processing microliters or less of fluid at a time in a channel with dimensions on the order of microns. The small size of the channels allows fluid properties to be studied in a world dominated by viscosity, surface tension, and diffusion rather than gravity and inertia. Microfluidic droplet generation is a well studied and understood phenomena, which has attracted attention due to its potential applications in biology, medicine, chemistry and a wide range of industries. This dissertation adds to the field of microfluidic droplet studies by studying individual droplet deformation and the process of scaling-up microfluidic devices for industrial use. The study of droplet deformation under extensional and mixed shear and extensional flows was performed within a microfluidic device. Droplets were generated using a flow-focusing device and then sent through a hyperbolic contraction downstream of the droplet generator. The hyperbolic contraction allowed the smallest droplets to be deformed by purely extensional flows and for the larger droplets to experience mixed extensional and shear flows. The shear resulted from the proximity of the droplet to the walls of the microfluidic channel. The continuous phase in all of these devices was oil and the dispersed phase was water, an aqueous surfactant solution, or an aqueous suspension of colloidal particles. Droplet deformation dynamics are affected by the use of surfactants and colloidal particles, which are commonly used to stabilize emulsion droplets again coalescence. Microfluidic droplet generating devices have many potential industrial applications, however, due to the low output of product from a single droplet generating device, their potential has not been realized. Using six parallel flow-focusing droplet generators on a single chip, the process of microfluidic droplet formation can be scaled up, thus resulting in a higher output of droplets. The tuning of droplet size and production frequency can be achieved on chip by varying the outlet tubing lengths, thus allowing for a single device to be used to generate a range of droplet sizes.

Subject Area

Mechanical engineering

Recommended Citation

Mulligan, Molly K, "Morphology and development of droplet deformation under flow within microfluidic devices" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3498405.