Electrogates for stop-and-go control of liquid flow in microfluidics
Diagnostics based on microfluidic devices necessitate specific reagents, flow conditions, and kinetics for optimal performance. Such an optimization is often achieved using assay-specific microfluidic chip designs or systems with external liquid pumps. Here, we present "electrogates" for stop-and-go control of flow of liquids in capillary-driven microfluidic chips by combining liquid pinning and electrowetting. Electrogates are simple to fabricate and efficient: a sample pipetted to a microfluidic chip flows autonomously in 15-μm-deep hydrophilic channels until the liquid meniscus is pinned at the edge of a 1.5-μm-deep trench patterned at the bottom of a rectangular microchannel. The flow can then be resumed by applying a DC voltage between the liquid and the trench via integrated electrodes. Using a trench geometry with a semicircular shape, we show that retention times longer than 30 min are achieved for various aqueous solutions such as biological buffers, artificial urine, and human serum. We studied the activation voltage and activation delay of electrogates using a chip architecture having 6 independent flow paths and experimentally showed that the flow can be resumed in less than 1 s for voltages smaller than 10 V, making this technique compatible with low-power and portable microfluidic systems. Electrogates therefore can make capillary-driven microfluidic chips very versatile by adding flow control in microfluidic channels in a flexible manner.