Research ArticleENGINEERING

In-air microfluidics enables rapid fabrication of emulsions, suspensions, and 3D modular (bio)materials

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Science Advances  31 Jan 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 1, eaao1175
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao1175

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Abstract

Microfluidic chips provide unparalleled control over droplets and jets, which have advanced all natural sciences. However, microfluidic applications could be vastly expanded by increasing the per-channel throughput and directly exploiting the output of chips for rapid additive manufacturing. We unlock these features with in-air microfluidics, a new chip-free platform to manipulate microscale liquid streams in the air. By controlling the composition and in-air impact of liquid microjets by surface tension–driven encapsulation, we fabricate monodisperse emulsions, particles, and fibers with diameters of 20 to 300 μm at rates that are 10 to 100 times higher than chip-based droplet microfluidics. Furthermore, in-air microfluidics uniquely enables module-based production of three-dimensional (3D) multiscale (bio)materials in one step because droplets are partially solidified in-flight and can immediately be printed onto a substrate. In-air microfluidics is cytocompatible, as demonstrated by additive manufacturing of 3D modular constructs with tailored microenvironments for multiple cell types. Its in-line control, high throughput and resolution, and cytocompatibility make in-air microfluidics a versatile platform technology for science, industry, and health care.

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