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Microfluidics with flexible liquid walls

School of Engineering

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Prof G McHale , Dr J Terry , Dr G Wells , Dr R Ledesma Aguilar No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
Edinburgh United Kingdom Chemical Engineering Electrical Engineering Mechanical Engineering Nanotechnology Materials Science

About the Project

Microfluidic systems allow precise control and manipulation of geometrically constrained liquids to a small scale and underpin Lab-on-a-Chip applications. This project will create new types of microfluidic systems with reconfigurable liquid walls.


A lab-on-a-chip integrates laboratory functions onto a small integrated circuit to achieve automation and high-throughput screening with minimal waste. Such chips rely on microfluidic systems to dispense, mix, separate and move small volumes of liquid. These are often created using microfabrication to create channels and features in a solid structure, but an alternative is to use droplet-based microfluidics. Here the droplet encapsulates the liquid and the interface between a droplet and another immiscible phase (air or another liquid) becomes the “wall”. Transport of the liquid occurs by applying forces to the droplet through, e.g. acoustic, electrostatic, magnetic or other forces.

 The flexibility provided by liquid walls allows reconfigurable microfluidic processes. The project will design, fabricate and test completely new types of droplet microfluidic systems. These will include ones where reversible droplet-to-film transitions can drive radial liquid motion and create internal liquid flows. Following the design and creation of patterned substrates, experiments will use video observation and particle tracking to observe droplet reconfiguration and internal flows. We will consider how the principles developed can create droplet functions such as separation of components in complex fluids, mixing, pumping and transportation.

Work will be conducted within the School of Engineering of the University and may involve wider collaboration with Universities in the UK and Overseas.

To Apply:


Recent Publications by Supervisor:
1. Edwards, A. M. J. M. J., Brown, C. V., Newton, M. I. I. & McHale, G. Dielectrowetting: The past, present and future. Curr. Opin. Colloid Interface Sci. vol. 36, 28–36 (2018).
2. Edwards, A. M. J., Ledesma-Aguilar, R., Newton, M. I., Brown, C. V. & McHale, G. Not spreading in reverse: The dewetting of a liquid film into a single drop. Sci. Adv. vol. 2, e1600183 (2016).
3. Guan, J. H. et al. Drop transport and positioning on lubricant-impregnated surfaces. Soft Matter vol. 13, 3404–3410 (2017).
4. Launay, G. et al. Self-propelled droplet transport on shaped-liquid surfaces. Sci. Rep. vol. 10, 14987 (2020).
5. Sadullah, M. S. et al. Bidirectional motion of droplets on gradient liquid infused surfaces. Commun. Phys. vol. 3, 166 (2020).
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