Laser beam properties and microfluidic confinement control thermocavitation

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Thermocavitation, the creation of a vapor bubble by heating a liquid with a continuous-wave laser, has been studied for a wide range of applications. Examples include the development of an actuator for needle-free jet injectors, as the pumping mechanism in microfluidic channels and nanoparticle synthesis. Optimal use in these applications requires control over the bubble dynamics through the laser power and beam radius. However, the influence of the laser beam radius on the bubble characteristics is not fully understood. Here, we present a way to control the beam radius from an optical fiber by changing the distance from the glass-liquid interface. We show that the increase in the beam size results in a longer nucleation time. Numerical simulations of the experiment show that the maximum temperature at nucleation is 237 ± 5 °C and independent of laser parameters. Delayed nucleation for larger beam sizes results in more absorbed energy by the liquid at the nucleation instant. Consequently, a larger beam size results in a faster growing bubble, producing the same effect as reducing the laser power. We conclude that the bubble energy only depends on the amount of absorbed optical energy and it is independent of the beam radius and laser power for any amount of absorbed energy. This effect contrasts with pulsed lasers, where an increase in the beam radius results in a reduction of bubble energy. Our results are of relevance for the use of continuous-wave laser-actuated cavitation in needle-free jet injectors as well as other applications of thermocavitation in microfluidic confinement.

Original languageEnglish
Article number014102
JournalApplied physics letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2024


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