Reconfigurable liquid pumping in electric-field-defined virtual microchannels by dielectrophoresis
Dielectrophoresis (DEP), widely used to generate body forces on suspended particles, is investigated to provide surface forces at the liquid–medium interfaces and pump a high-permittivity liquid in a low-permittivity medium along a virtual microchannel defined by an electric field between parallel plates. Because the pumping pressure is proportional to the square of the intensity of the electric field and independent of the channel width, DEP pumping is advantageous as the dimension of the microchannel shrinks down. The absence of the channel walls simplifies the fabrication processes and further increases its feasibility in nanofluidic applications. We demonstrate water pumping in an immiscible silicone oil medium at adjustable velocities by applying voltages above the threshold value whose square is linearly proportional to the cross-sectional aspect ratio (AR), i.e., the height to width ratio, of the microchannel. With a properly designed AR, liquid valve is achieved by appropriate voltage applications. Without the barriers of channel walls, merging multiple streams and capillary filling of the spacing between electric-field-defined virtual microchannels are observed and studied. Moreover, in situreconfigurable liquid pumping is demonstrated by a four way switching valve on a programmable crossing electrode set.