Microscale tipstreaming in a microfluidic flow focusing device
A microfluidic flow-focusing device is used to explore the use of surfactant-mediated tipstreaming to synthesize micrometer-scale and smaller droplets. By controlling the surfactant bulk concentration of a soluble nonionic surfactant in the neighborhood of the critical micelle concentration, along with the capillary number and the ratio of the internal and external flow rates, we observe several distinct modes of droplet breakup. For the most part, droplet breakup in microfluidic devices results in highly monodisperse droplets in the range of tens of micrometers in size. However, we observe a new mode of breakup called “thread formation” that resembles tipstreaming and yields tiny droplets in the range of a few micrometers in size or smaller. In this work, we characterize the growth of the thread and its maximum length as a function of flow variables and surfactant content, and we also characterize the period of droplet breakup as a function of these variables. Our results suggest possible methods for controlling the process. Using a simple flow visualization experiment as the basis, we report on preliminary efforts to model the thread formation process.