The K-Channel: A Multi-Functional Architecture for Dynamically Re-Configurable Sample Processing in Droplet Microfluidics
By rapidly creating libraries of thousands of unique, miniaturized reactors, droplet microfluidics provides a powerful method for automating high-throughput chemical analysis. In order to engineer in-droplet assays, microfluidic devices must add reagents into droplets, remove fluid from droplets, and perform other necessary operations, each typically provided by a unique, specialized geometry. Unfortunately, modifying device performance or changing operations usually requires re-engineering the device among these specialized geometries, a time-consuming and costly process when optimizing in-droplet assays. To address this challenge in implementing droplet chemistry, we have developed the “K-channel,” which couples a cross-channel flow to the segmented droplet flow to enable a range of operations on passing droplets. K-channels perform reagent injection (0-100% of droplet volume), fluid extraction (0-50% of droplet volume), and droplet splitting (1:1-1:5 daughter droplet ratio). Instead of modifying device dimensions or channel configuration, adjusting external conditions, such as applied pressure and electric field, selects the Kchannel process and tunes its magnitude. Finally, interfacing a device-embedded magnet allows selective capture of 96% of dropletencapsulated superparamagnetic beads during 1:1 droplet splitting events at ~400 Hz. Addition of a second K-channel for injection (after the droplet splitting K-channel) enables integrated washing of magnetic beads within rapidly-moving droplets. Ultimately, the K-channel provides an exciting opportunity to perform many useful droplet operations across a range of magnitudes without requiring architectural modifications. Therefore, we envision the K-channel as a versatile, easy to use microfluidic component enabling diverse, in-droplet (bio)chemical manipulations.