Microfluidics and Nanofluidics

, Volume 12, Issue 1–4, pp 325–335 | Cite as

Fabrication of an optically driven pH gradient generator based on self-assembled proton pumps

  • Khaled M. Al-Aribe
  • George K. Knopf
  • Amarjeet S. Bassi
Research Paper


Optically manipulating the local pH of a target solution in a microchannel, or reservoir, provides a mechanism for activating and controlling a variety of biological and chemical processes on Lab-on-a-Chip (LOC) devices and micro-total analysis systems (μ-TAS). A microscale pH gradient generator that exploits the light-activated molecular proton pumps found in the purple membranes (PM) of bacteriorhodopsin is described in this paper. The photo-electro-chemical transducer is an ultrathin layer (~13 nm) of oriented PM patches self-assembled on an Au-coated porous substrate. A biotin labeling and streptavidin molecular recognition technique is used to ensure that the extracellular side of all PM patches is attached to the porous substrate enabling unidirectional and efficient transport of ions across the transducer surface. The photo-induced proton pumps generate a flow of ions that produce a measurable change in pH between the separated solutions. The self-assembly procedure is experimentally quantified based on the capacitance characteristics of the bR membranes. The investigation confirms that the transducer is covered with the bR proton pumps at a mass density of 2.33 ng/cm2. Experimental tests also show that the proposed transducer can repeatedly generate pH gradients as high as 0.42 and absolute voltage differences as high as 25 mV when illuminated by an 18 mW, 568 nm light source. Furthermore, the ΔpH is observed to be nonlinear with respect to light intensity and exposure time. The ΔpH of the target solution is sufficient to cause a phenolphthalein indicator dye to change color or an ionic hydrogel micro-valve to expand.


Bacteriorhodopsin Proton pump pH gradients Photoresponsive films Optically driven transducers 



This work has been supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Portions of this research were carried out with the support of the staff in the Nanofabrication Facility at the University of Western Ontario.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Khaled M. Al-Aribe
    • 1
  • George K. Knopf
    • 1
  • Amarjeet S. Bassi
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Mechanical & Materials EngineeringThe University of Western OntarioLondonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Chemical & Biochemical EngineeringThe University of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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