Nazila Norouzi, Heran C. Bhakta, and William H. Grover. PLOS ONE 11 (3): e0149259. PDF

Most microfluidic chips utilize off-chip hardware (syringe pumps, computer-controlled solenoid valves, pressure regulators, etc.) to control fluid flow on-chip. This expensive, bulky, and power-consuming hardware severely limits the utility of microfluidic instruments in resource-limited or point-of-care contexts, where the cost, size, and power consumption of the instrument must be limited. In this work, we present a technique for on-chip fluid control that requires no off-chip hardware. We accomplish this by using inert compounds to change the density of one fluid in the chip. If one fluid is made 2% more dense than a second fluid, when the fluids flow together under laminar flow the interface between the fluids quickly reorients to be orthogonal to Earth’s gravitational force. If the channel containing the fluids then splits into two channels, the amount of each fluid flowing into each channel is precisely determined by the angle of the channels relative to gravity. Thus, any fluid can be routed in any direction and mixed in any desired ratio on-chip simply by holding the chip at a certain angle. This approach allows for sophisticated control of on-chip fluids with no off-chip control hardware, significantly reducing the cost of microfluidic instruments in point-of-care or resource-limited settings.