Author(s): Ren K, Zhou J, Wu H
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Abstract Through manipulating fluids using microfabricated channel and chamber structures, microfluidics is a powerful tool to realize high sensitive, high speed, high throughput, and low cost analysis. In addition, the method can establish a well-controlled microenivroment for manipulating fluids and particles. It also has rapid growing implementations in both sophisticated chemical/biological analysis and low-cost point-of-care assays. Some unique phenomena emerge at the micrometer scale. For example, reactions are completed in a shorter amount of time as the travel distances of mass and heat are relatively small; the flows are usually laminar; and the capillary effect becomes dominant owing to large surface-to-volume ratios. In the meantime, the surface properties of the device material are greatly amplified, which can lead to either unique functions or problems that we would not encounter at the macroscale. Also, each material inherently corresponds with specific microfabrication strategies and certain native properties of the device. Therefore, the material for making the device plays a dominating role in microfluidic technologies. In this Account, we address the evolution of materials used for fabricating microfluidic chips, and discuss the application-oriented pros and cons of different materials. This Account generally follows the order of the materials introduced to microfluidics. Glass and silicon, the first generation microfluidic device materials, are perfect for capillary electrophoresis and solvent-involved applications but expensive for microfabriaction. Elastomers enable low-cost rapid prototyping and high density integration of valves on chip, allowing complicated and parallel fluid manipulation and in-channel cell culture. Plastics, as competitive alternatives to elastomers, are also rapid and inexpensive to microfabricate. Their broad variety provides flexible choices for different needs. For example, some thermosets support in-situ fabrication of arbitrary 3D structures, while some perfluoropolymers are extremely inert and antifouling. Chemists can use hydrogels as highly permeable structural material, which allows diffusion of molecules without bulk fluid flows. They are used to support 3D cell culture, to form diffusion gradient, and to serve as actuators. Researchers have recently introduced paper-based devices, which are extremely low-cost to prepare and easy to use, thereby promising in commercial point-of-care assays. In general, the evolution of chip materials reflects the two major trends of microfluidic technology: powerful microscale research platforms and low-cost portable analyses. For laboratory research, chemists choosing materials generally need to compromise the ease in prototyping and the performance of the device. However, in commercialization, the major concerns are the cost of production and the ease and reliability in use. There may be new growth in the combination of surface engineering, functional materials, and microfluidics, which is possibly accomplished by the utilization of composite materials or hybrids for advanced device functions. Also, significant expanding of commercial applications can be predicted.
This article was published in Acc Chem Res
and referenced in Journal of Advanced Chemical Engineering