A proposed normally-closed microvalve would contain a piezoelectric bending actuator instead of a piezoelectric linear actuator like that of the microvalve described in the preceding article. Whereas the stroke of the linear actuator of the preceding article would be limited to ≈6 μm, the stroke of the proposed bending actuator would lie in the approximate range of 10 to 15 μm — large enough to enable the microvalve to handle a variety of liquids containing suspended particles having sizes up to 10 μm. Such particulate-laden liquids occur in a variety of microfluidic systems, one example being a system that sorts cells or large biomolecules for analysis.
In comparison with the linear actuator of the preceding article, the bending actuator would be smaller and less massive. The combination of increased stroke, smaller mass, and smaller volume would be obtained at the cost of decreased actuation force: The proposed actuator would generate a force in the approximate range of 1 to 4 N, the exact amount depending on operating conditions and details of design. This level of actuation force would be too low to enable the valve to handle a fluid at the high pressure level mentioned in the preceding article.
The proposal encompasses two alternative designs — one featuring a miniature piezoelectric bimorph actuator and one featuring a thick-film unimorph piezoelectric actuator (see figure). In either version, the valve would consume a power of only 0.01 W when actuated at a frequency of 100 Hz. Also, in either version, it would be necessary to attach a soft elastomeric sealing ring to the valve seat so that any particles that settle on the seat would be pushed deep into the elastomeric material to prevent or reduce leakage.
The overall dimensions of the bimorph version would be 7 by 7 by 1 mm. The actuator in this version would generate a force of 1 N and a stroke of 10 μm at an applied potential of 150 V. The actuation force would be sufficient to enable the valve to handle a fluid pressurized up to about 50 psi (≈0.35 MPa).
The overall dimensions of the unimorph version would be 2 by 2 by 0.5 mm. In this version, an electric field across the piezoelectric film on a diaphragm would cause the film to pull on, and thereby bend, the diaphragm. At an applied potential of 20 V, the actuator in this version would generate a stroke of 10 μm and a force of 0.01 N. This force level would be too low to enable handling of fluids at pressures comparable to those of the bimorph version. This version would be useful primarily in microfluidic and nanofluidic applications that involve extremely low differential pressures and in which there are requirements for extreme miniaturization of valves. Examples of such applications include liquid chromatography and sequencing of deoxyribonucleic acid.
This work was done by Eui-Hyeok Yang of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to
Refer to NPO-30563, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.