Propelling microdroplets generated and sustained by liquid-liquid phase separation in confined spaces

Xuehua Zhang*, Jae Bem You, Gilmar F. Arends, Jiasheng Qian, Yibo Chen, Detlef Lohse, John M. Shaw

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
42 Downloads (Pure)


Flow transport in confined spaces is ubiquitous in technological processes, ranging from separation and purification of pharmaceutical ingredients by microporous membranes and drug delivery in biomedical treatment to chemical and biomass conversion in catalyst-packed reactors and carbon dioxide sequestration. In this work, we suggest a distinct pathway for enhanced liquid transport in a confined space via propelling microdroplets. These microdroplets can form spontaneously from localized liquid-liquid phase separation as a ternary mixture is diluted by a diffusing poor solvent. High speed images reveal how the microdroplets grow, break up and propel rapidly along the solid surface, with a maximal velocity up to ∼160 μm s-1, in response to a sharp concentration gradient resulting from phase separation. The microdroplet propulsion induces a replenishing flow between the walls of the confined space towards the location of phase separation, which in turn drives the mixture out of equilibrium and leads to a repeating cascade of events. Our findings on the complex and rich phenomena of propelling droplets suggest an effective approach to enhanced flow motion of multicomponent liquid mixtures within confined spaces for time effective separation and smart transport processes. This journal is

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5362-5374
Number of pages13
JournalSoft matter
Issue number21
Early online date22 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2021


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