We present a device for passive unidirectional liquid transport. The capillary channels used are bioinspired by the shape of the spermathecae (receptaculum seminis) of rabbit fleas (Spilopsyllus cuniculi) and rat fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis). The spermatheca is an organ of female fleas that stores sperm until suitable conditions to lay eggs are found. We translated and multiplied the natural form and function of a spermatheca to create a continuous capillary system from which we designed our microfluidic device based directly on the model from nature. Applying the Young-Laplace equation, we derived a theoretical description of local liquid transport, which enables model-guided design. We arranged the bioinspired capillaries in parallel and engraved them in poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) plates by CO2 laser ablation. The fabricated structures transport soapy water passively (i.e., without external energy input) in the forward direction at velocities of about 1 mm·s−1 while halting the liquid fronts completely in the backward direction. The bioinspired capillary channels are capable of unidirectional liquid transport against gravity. Distance and velocity measurements prove the feasibility of the concept. Unidirectional passive liquid transport might be advantageous in technical surfaces for liquid management, for instance, in biomedical microfluidics, lab-on-chip, lubrication, electronics cooling and in micro-analysis devices.
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We thank the Institute of Polymer Science at Johannes Kepler University Linz for providing the setup for surface tension and contact angle measurement, and the Biologiezentrum Linz for lending us the sample of the flea. We are grateful to Anna Stadler for her help with Fig. 1. Furthermore, we thank Thomas Fritz, Kurt Thaller B.Sc. and Dr. Andreas Buchsbaum from the company RECENDT GmbH for technical assistance. We acknowledge financial support from Kimberly-Clark Corporation and from the European Research Council within the Advanced Investigators Grant SoftMap (Soft Matter Physics Team). Financial support from the European Commission is acknowledged within the “LiNaBioFluid” project within the scope of H2020-FETOPEN-2014-2015-RIA. This research was further supported by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) under contract number FFGP13830002/MicroNeedle.
The original version of this article was revised due to a retrospective Open Access order.
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Buchberger, G., Kogler, A., Weth, A. et al. “Fluidic diode” for passive unidirectional liquid transport bioinspired by the spermathecae of fleas. J Bionic Eng 15, 42–56 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42235-017-0003-7