The idea of designing a microfluidic channel to slope upward along the direction of flow of the liquid in the channel has been conceived to help prevent trapping of gas bubbles in the channel. In the original application that gave rise to this idea, the microfluidic channels are parts of micro-capillary electrophoresis (microCE) devices undergoing development for use on Mars in detecting compounds indicative of life. It is necessary to prevent trapping of gas bubbles in these devices because uninterrupted liquid pathways are essential for sustaining the electrical conduction and flows that are essential for CE. The idea is also applicable to microfluidic devices that may be developed for similar terrestrial microCE biotechnological applications or other terrestrial applications in which trapping of bubbles in microfluidic channels cannot be tolerated.
A typical microCE device in the original application includes, among other things, multiple layers of borosilicate float glass wafers. Microfluidic channels are formed in the wafers, typically by use of wet chemical etching. The figure presents a simplified cross section of part of such a device in which the CE channel is formed in the lowermost wafer (denoted the channel wafer) and, according to the present innovation, slopes upward into a via hole in another wafer (denoted the manifold wafer) lying immediately above the channel wafer. Another feature of the present innovation is that the via hole in the manifold wafer is made to taper to a wider opening at the top to further reduce the tendency to trap bubbles.
At the time of reporting the information for this article, an effort to identify an optimum technique for forming the slope and the taper was in progress. Of the techniques considered thus far, the one considered to be most promising is precision milling by use of femtosecond laser pulses. Other similar techniques that may work equally well are precision milling using a focused ion beam, or a small diamond-tipped drill bit.