Instability of electrokinetic microchannel flows with conductivity gradients
Electrokinetic flow is leveraged in a variety of applications, and is a key enabler of on-chip electrophoresis systems. An important sub-class of electrokinetic devices aim to pump and control electrolyte working liquids with spatial gradients in conductivity. These high-gradient flows can become unstable under the application of a sufficiently strong electric field. In this work the instability physics is explored using theoretical and numerical analyses, as well as experimental observations. The flow in a long, rectangular-cross-section channel is considered. A conductivity gradient is assumed to be orthogonal to the main flow direction, and an electric field is applied in the streamwise direction. It is found that such a system exhibits a critical electric field above which the flow is highly unstable, resulting in fluctuating velocities and rapid stirring. Modeling results compare well with experimental observations. The model indicates that the fluid forces associated with the thin dimension of the channel (transverse to both the conductivity gradient and the main flow direction) tends to stabilize the flow. These results have application to the design and control of on-chip assays that require high conductivity gradients, and provides a rapid mixing mechanism for low Reynolds number flows in microchannels. © 2004 American Institute of Physics.
Lin, H; Storey, BD; Oddy, MH; Chen, CH; Santiago, JG
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