Flow Control Valves for Analytical Microfluidic Chips without Mechanical Parts Based on Thermally Responsive Monolithic Polymers
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Monolithic plugs of poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) cross-linked with 5% methylenebisacrylamide have been prepared by photoinitiated polymerization within the channel of a microfluidic device. The volume change associated with the polymer phase transition at its lower critical solution temperature of 32 degrees C allows both the rapid swelling and the deswelling of the monoliths enabling the polymer to close or open the channel as it functions as a nonmechanical valve. Thermoelectric elements capable of changing the temperature of the system between 17 and 57 degrees C were used to actuate the valve. Flow through the device was monitored by fluorescence measurements via the laser-triggered photobleaching of a dye contained in the liquid phase. Photobleaching occurs quickly once the flow is stopped, and the time required to open and close the valve was 3.5 and 5.0 s, respectively. No changes in function were observed even after 120 open-close cycles. Although the 2-mm-long valve was prepared from a polymerization mixture consisting of only a 5% aqueous solution of monomers, it resists pressures of up to 1.38 MPa (200 psi) without observable structural damage.
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