The atomic force microscope (AFM) is used to inject a sample, provide shear-driven liquid flow over a functionalized substrate, and detect separated components. This is demonstrated using lipophilic dyes and normal phase chromatography. A significant reduction in both size and separation time scales is achieved with a 25- micron-length column scale, and one-second separation times. The approach has general applications to trace chemical and microfluidic analysis.
The AFM is now a common tool for ultramicroscopy and nanotechnology. It has also been demonstrated to provide a number of microfluidic functions necessary for miniaturized chromatography. These include injection of sub-femtoliter samples, fluidic switching, and shear-driven pumping. The AFM probe tip can be used to selectively remove surface layers for subsequent microchemical analysis using infrared and tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy. With its ability to image individual atoms, the AFM is a remarkably sensitive detector that can be used to detect separated components. These diverse functional components of microfluidic manipulation have been combined in this work to demonstrate AFM mediated chromatography.
AFM mediated chromatography uses channel-less, shear-driven pumping. This is demonstrated with a thin, aluminum oxide substrate and a non-polar solvent system to separate a mixture of lipophilic dyes. In conventional chromatographic terms, this is analogous to thin-layer chromatography using normal phase alumina substrate with shear-driven pumping provided by the AFM tip-cantilever mechanism. The AFM detection of separated components is accomplished by exploiting the variation in the localized friction of the separated components. The AFM tip-cantilever provides the mechanism for producing shear-induced flows and rapid pumping. Shear-driven chromatography (SDC) is a relatively new concept that overcomes the speed and miniaturization limitations of conventional liquid chromatography. SDC is based on a sliding plate system, consisting of two flat surfaces, one of which has a recessed channel. A fluid flow is produced by axially sliding one plate past another, where the fluid has mechanical shear forces imposed at each point along the channel length. The shear-induced flow rates are very reproducible, and do not have pressure or voltage gradient limitations.
SDC opens up a new range of enhanced separation kinetics by permitting the sample confinement with submicron dimensions. Small, highly confined liquid is advantageous for chromatographic separation because the separation rate is known to scale according to the square of the confined sample diameter. In addition, because shear-driven flows are not limited by fluid velocity, shear-driven liquid chromatography may provide up to 100,000 plate efficiency.
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