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Mechanism governing separation in microfluidic pinched flow fractionation devices


We present a computational investigation of the mechanism governing size-based particle separation in microfluidic pinched flow fractionation. We study the behavior of particles moving through a pinching gap (i.e., a constriction in the aperture of a channel) in the Stokes regime (negligible fluid and particle inertia) as a function of particle size. The constriction aperture is created by a plane wall and spherical obstacle, and emulates the pinching segment in pinched flow fractionation devices. The simulation results show that the distance of closest approach between the particle and obstacle surfaces (along a trajectory) decreases with increasing particle size. We then use the distance of closest approach to investigate the effect of short-range repulsive non-hydrodynamic interactions (e.g., solid-solid contact due to surface roughness, electrostatic, or steric repulsion, etc.). We define a critical trajectory as the one in which the minimum particle–obstacle separation is equal to the range of the non-hydrodynamic interactions. The results further show that the initial offset of the critical trajectory (defined as the critical offset) increases with particle size. We interpret the variation of the critical offset with particle size as the basis for size-based microfluidic separation in pinched flow fractionation. We also compare the effect of different driving fields on the particle trajectories; we simulate a constant force driving the particles in a quiescent fluid as well as a freely suspended particles in a pressure-driven flow. We observe that the particles approach closer to the obstacle when driven by a constant force, than those freely suspended in a pressure driven flow (for the same initial offset). On the other hand, the increment in the critical offset (as a function of particle size) is larger in the pressure-driven case than in the force-driven case. Thus, pressure-driven particle separation using pinched flow fractionation would prove more effective than its force-driven counterpart (e.g., particles settling under gravity through a pinching gap).

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We thank Prof. A. J. C. Ladd for making the LB code, Susp3d, available to us. This work is partially supported by the National Science Foundation Grant No. CBET-1343924. This work used the resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, which is supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231.

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Correspondence to German Drazer.

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Risbud, S.R., Drazer, G. Mechanism governing separation in microfluidic pinched flow fractionation devices. Microfluid Nanofluid 17, 1003–1009 (2014).

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  • Microfluidic separations
  • Pinched flow fractionation
  • Trajectory analysis