Interfacial instabilities in a microfluidic Hele-Shaw cell

Michinao Hashimoto, Piotr Garstecki, Howard A. Stone, George M. Whitesides

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


This paper describes surfactant-sensitive, dynamic instabilities that occur to aqueous droplets translating in a continuous flow of hexadecane in a microfluidic Hele-Shaw cell (HSC). A very low interfacial tension (on the order of 0.01 mN m-1) between water and hexadecane allowed for deformation of the droplets along the fields of flow and tip-streaming from moving droplets. In the system of water and hexadecane that we investigated, the use of surfactants in both fluids was necessary to achieve interfacial tension sufficiently low for the instabilities to occur. The droplets entering the HSC stretched orthogonally to the main direction of flow into elongated shapes, with aspect ratios greater than ten to one (width to length). These droplets exhibited two types of instabilities. The first included elongation of droplets, and Rayleigh-Plateau instabilities in the stretched droplets. Arrays of these stretched droplets formed three characteristic patterns that depended on the rates of flow of water and hexadecane. The second was driven by the shear stress exerted on the interface between the two fluids by the top and bottom boundaries of the HSC; this instability is named a "shear-driven instability" (SDI). Our observations supported that the SDI - an effect similar to tip-streaming - resulted from a redistribution of surfactants at the interface between the two fluids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1403-1413
Number of pages11
JournalSoft matter
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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