The recent development of liquid-phase chemical analyses, drug delivery, and flow cytometry requires precise sensing and control of the liquid flow in a microfluidic chip environment. The channel in microfluidic chips is getting narrower to cope with complex liquid controls on a single chip, where small-footprint sensors and actuators are in urgent demand for accurate flow management. In this study, a unique microscopic bubble-on-fiber (BoF) device that can be readily integrated to current microfluidic chips was proposed and demonstrated for in situ sensing and control of microfluidic flow rate. The single microbubble was optically generated on the gold-deposited facet of an optical fiber by the local heating due to optical absorption. The BoF is a microscopic Fabry-Perot cavity, which serves as a thermal flow sensor precisely detecting the flow-induced temperature changes in the optical frequency domain. Experimentally we achieved the minimum detectable flow rate of ~0.06 mm/s in a single microfluidic channel, which is equivalent to a volume flow rate of 22 nL/s, and a response time of ~6 s. We also demonstrated that the BoF functioned as a microfluidic valve to regulate the flow rate in a Y-shape microfluidic chip by optically varying the bubble diameter. In addition to advantages of highly integrated functionalities and microscopic form factor, the proposed BoF can obviate the usage of chemical tracer such as dyes and can provide a high sensitivity over repeated flow cycles in a highly consistent manner. The BoF is promising for the timely development of high-density lab-on-a-chip devices using its efficient liquid flow management capability.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics