Surface modification of droplet polymeric microfluidic devices for the stable and continuous generation of aqueous droplets

Balamurugan Subramanian, Department of Chemistry and Center for BioModular Multi-scale Systems, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA.
Namwon Kim
Wonbae Lee
David A. Spivak
Dimitris E. Nikitopoulos
Robin L. McCarley
Steven A. Soper


Droplet microfluidics performed in poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) microfluidic devices resulted in significant wall wetting by water droplets formed in a liquid-liquid segmented flow when using a hydrophobic carrier fluid such as perfluorotripropylamine (FC-3283). This wall wetting led to water droplets with nonuniform sizes that were often trapped on the wall surfaces, leading to unstable and poorly controlled liquid-liquid segmented flow. To circumvent this problem, we developed a two-step procedure to hydrophobically modify the surfaces of PMMA and other thermoplastic materials commonly used to make microfluidic devices. The surface-modification route involved the introduction of hydroxyl groups by oxygen plasma treatment of the polymer surface followed by a solution-phase reaction with heptadecafluoro-1,1,2,2-tetrahydrodecyl trichlorosilane dissolved in fluorocarbon solvent FC-3283. This procedure was found to be useful for the modification of PMMA and other thermoplastic surfaces, including polycyclic olefin copolymer (COC) and polycarbonate (PC). Angle-resolved X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy indicated that the fluorination of these polymers took place with high surface selectivity. This procedure was used to modify the surface of a PMMA droplet microfluidic device (DMFD) and was shown to be useful in reducing the wetting problem during the generation of aqueous droplets in a perfluorotripropylamine (FC-3283) carrier fluid and could generate stable segmented flows for hours of operation. In the case of PMMA DMFD, oxygen plasma treatment was carried out after the PMMA cover plate was thermally fusion bonded to the PMMA microfluidic chip. Because the appended chemistry to the channel wall created a hydrophobic surface, it will accommodate the use of other carrier fluids that are hydrophobic as well, such as hexadecane or mineral oils.