Air bubble removal: Wettability contrast enabled microfluidic interconnects

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The presence of air bubbles boosts the shear resistance and causes pressure fluctuation within fluid-perfused microchannels, resulting in possible cell damage and even malfunction of microfluidic devices. Eliminating air bubbles is especially challenging in microscale where the adhesive surface tension force is often dominant over other forces. Here, we present an air bubble removal strategy from a novel surface engineering perspective. A microfluidic port-to-port interconnect was fabricated by modifying the peripheral of the microfluidic ports superhydrophobic, while maintaining the inner polymer microchannels hydrophilic. Such a sharp wettability contrast enabled a preferential fluidic entrance into the easy-wetting microchannels over the non-wetting boundaries of the microfluidic ports, while simultaneously filtering out any incoming air bubbles owing to the existence of port-to-port gaps. This bubble-eliminating capability was consistently demonstrated at varying flow rates and liquid analytes. Compared to equipment-intensive techniques and porous membrane-venting strategies, our wettability contrast-governed strategy provides a simple yet effective route for eliminating air bubbles and simultaneously sealing microfluidic interconnects.

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Sensors and actuators. B, Chemical

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