High-throughput sorting of drops in microfluidic chips using electric capacitance

Arjen M. Pit*, Riëlle de Ruiter, Anand Kumar, Daniel Wijnperlé, Michél H.G. Duits, Frieder Mugele

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


We analyze a recently introduced approach for the sorting of aqueous drops with biological content immersed in oil, using a microfluidic chip that combines the functionality of electrowetting with the high throughput of two-phase flow microfluidics. In this electrostatic sorter, three co-planar electrodes covered by a thin dielectric layer are placed directly below the fluidic channel. Switching the potential of the central electrode creates an electrical guide that leads the drop to the desired outlet. The generated force, which deflects the drop, can be tuned via the voltage. The working principle is based on a contrast in conductivity between the drop and the continuous phase, which ensures successful operation even for drops of highly conductive biological media like phosphate buffered saline. Moreover, since the electric field does not penetrate the drop, its content is protected from electrical currents and Joule heating. A simple capacitive model allows quantitative prediction of the electrostatic forces exerted on drops. The maximum achievable sorting rate is determined by a competition between electrostatic and hydrodynamic forces. Sorting speeds up to 1200 per second are demonstrated for conductive drops of 160 pl in low viscosity oil.

Original languageEnglish
Article number044116
Pages (from-to)044116-
Number of pages13
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


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