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Self-Digitization of Sample Volumes

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posted on 01.07.2010, 00:00 by Dawn E. Cohen, Thomas Schneider, Michelle Wang, Daniel T. Chiu
This paper describes a very simple and robust microfluidic device for digitizing samples into an array of discrete volumes. The device is based on an inherent fluidic phenomenon, where an incoming aqueous sample divides itself into an array of chambers that have been primed with an immiscible phase. Self-digitization of sample volumes results from the interplay between fluidic forces, interfacial tension, channel geometry, and the final stability of the digitized samples in the chambers. Here, we describe experiments and simulations that were used to characterize these parameters and the conditions under which the self-digitization process occurred. Unlike existing methods used to partition samples into an array, our method is able to digitize 100% of a sample into a localized array without any loss of sample volume. The final volume of the discretized sample at each location is defined by the geometry and size of each chamber. Thus, we can form an array of samples with varying but predefined volumes. We exploited this feature to separate the crystal growth of otherwise concomitant polymorphs from a single solution. Additionally, we demonstrated the removal of the digitized samples from the chambers for downstream analysis, as well as the addition of reagents to the digitized samples. We believe this simple method will be useful in a broad range of applications where a large array of discretized samples is required, including digital PCR, single-cell analysis, and cell-based drug screening.