Dynamic self-assembly and control of microfluidic particle crystals

Wonhee Lee, Hamed Amini, Howard A. Stone, Dino Di Carlo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

193 Scopus citations


Engineered two-phase microfluidic systems have recently shown promise for computation, encryption, and biological processing. For many of these systems, complex control of dispersed-phase frequency and switching is enabled by nonlinearities associated with interfacial stresses. Introducing nonlinearity associated with fluid inertia has recently been identified as an easy to implement strategy to control two-phase (solid-liquid) microscale flows. By taking advantage of inertial effects we demonstrate controllable self-assembling particle systems, uncover dynamics suggesting a unique mechanism of dynamic self-assembly, and establish a framework for engineering microfluidic structures with the possibility of spatial frequency filtering. Focusing on the dynamics of the particle - particle interactions reveals a mechanism for the dynamic selfassembly process; inertial lift forces and a parabolic flow field act together to stabilize interparticle spacings that otherwise would diverge to infinity due to viscous disturbance flows. The interplay of the repulsive viscous interaction and inertial lift also allow us to design and implement microfluidic structures that irreversibly change interparticle spacing, similar to a low-pass filter. Although often not considered at the microscale, nonlinearity due to inertia can provide a platform for high-throughput passive control of particle positions in all directions, which will be useful for applications in flow cytometry, tissue engineering, and metamaterial synthesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22413-22418
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number52
StatePublished - Dec 28 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Defocusing
  • Hydrodynamic interaction
  • Inertial ordering
  • Microfluidics
  • Particle-laden flow


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