Microsystems & Nanoengineering

Direct electrification of silicon microfluidics for electric field applications

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Microfluidic systems are widely used in fundamental research and industrial applications due to their unique behavior, enhanced control, and manipulation opportunities of liquids in constrained geometries. In micrometer-sized channels, electric fields are efficient mechanisms for manipulating liquids, leading to deflection, injection, poration or electrochemical modification of cells and droplets. While PDMS-based microfluidic devices are used due to their inexpensive fabrication, they are limited in terms of electrode integration. Using silicon as the channel material, microfabrication techniques can be used to create nearby electrodes. Despite the advantages that silicon provides, its opacity has prevented its usage in most important microfluidic applications that need optical access. To overcome this barrier, silicon-on-insulator technology in microfluidics is introduced to create optical viewports and channel-interfacing electrodes. More specifically, the microfluidic channel walls are directly electrified via selective, nanoscale etching to introduce insulation segments inside the silicon device layer, thereby achieving the most homogeneous electric field distributions and lowest operation voltages feasible across microfluidic channels. These ideal electrostatic conditions enable a drastic energy reduction, as effectively shown via picoinjection and fluorescence-activated droplet sorting applications at voltages below 6 and 15 V, respectively, facilitating low-voltage electric field applications in next-generation microfluidics. [Figure not available: see fulltext.].