Open-tubular nanoelectrochromatography (OT-NEC): gel-free separation of single stranded DNAs (ssDNAs) in thermoplastic nanochannels

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Electrophoresis or electrochromatography carried out in nanometer columns (width and depth) offers some attractive benefits compared to microscale columns. These advantages include unique separation mechanisms that are scale dependent, fast separation times, and simpler workflow due to the lack of a need for column packing and/or wall coatings to create a stationary phase. We report the use of thermoplastics, in this case PMMA, as the substrate for separating single-stranded DNAs (ssDNAs). Electrophoresis nanochannels were created in PMMA using nanoimprint lithography (NIL), which can produce devices at lower cost and in a higher production mode compared to the fabrication techniques required for glass devices. The nanochannel column in PMMA was successful in separating ssDNAs in free solution that was not possible using microchip electrophoresis in PMMA. The separation could be performed in <1 s with resolution >1.5 when carried out using at an electric field strength of 280 V/cm and an effective column length of 60 μm (100 nm × 100 nm, depth and width). The ssDNAs transport through the PMMA column was driven electrokinetically under the influence of an EOF. The results indicated that the separation was dominated by chromatographic effects using an open tubular nano-electrochromatography (OT-NEC) mode of separation. Interesting to these separations was that no column packing was required nor a wall coating to create the stationary phase; the separation was affected using the native polymer that was UV/O activated and an aqueous buffer mobile phase.

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