Mechanowetting drives droplet and fluid transport on traveling surface waves generated by light-responsive liquid crystal polymers

Edwin De Jong, Rean Kremer, Ling Liu, Jaap M.J. den Toonder, Patrick R. Onck (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


In nature, capillary forces are often driving microfluidic propulsion and droplet manipulation, and technologies have been developed to utilize these forces in applications such as lab-on-a-chip biosensors and microfluidic systems. At the same time, responsive materials have been developed that can be activated by a variety of external triggers, including light, electric fields, and temperature, to locally deform and create dynamic surface structures, such as traveling waves. Here, we combine these developments into a system that enables capillary-driven droplet transport and fluid propulsion generated by light-induced surface waves in azobenzene-embedded liquid crystal polymers. We demonstrate that the traveling waves are able to efficiently propel fluids by means of mechanowetting. We couple the wave profiles to the fluid simulations using a multiphase computational fluid dynamics approach. We study three different fluid propulsion systems, i.e., peristaltic flow, liquid slug transport, and free-standing droplet transport. The first system operates on a fluid-filled single channel and achieves relative flow speeds of u/uwave<0.01. In contrast, the slugs and droplets are transported at two orders of magnitude higher speed equal to the wave speed (u/uwave=1) by exploiting the mechanowetting effect. We quantify the capillary forces generated by the traveling surface waves. Our method opens new avenues in light-driven (digital) microfluidic systems with enhanced control of fluid flow.
Original languageEnglish
Article number063307
Number of pages12
JournalPhysics of Fluids
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2021


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