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3D Micromachined Polyimide Mixing Devices for in Situ X‑ray Imaging of Solution-Based Block Copolymer Phase Transitions

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posted on 01.08.2019, 14:39 authored by Mohammad Vakili, Stefan Merkens, Yunyun Gao, Paul V. Gwozdz, Ramakrishna Vasireddi, Lewis Sharpnack, Andreas Meyer, Robert H. Blick, Martin Trebbin
Advances in modern interface- and material sciences often rely on the understanding of a system’s structure–function relationship. Designing reproducible experiments that yield in situ time-resolved structural information at fast time scales is therefore of great interest, e.g., for better understanding the early stages of self-assembly or other phase transitions. However, it can be challenging to accurately control experimental conditions, especially when samples are only available in small amounts, prone to agglomeration, or if X-ray compatibility is required. We address these challenges by presenting a microfluidic chip for triggering dynamics via rapid diffusive mixing for in situ time-resolved X-ray investigations. This polyimide/Kapton-only-based device can be used to study the structural dynamics and phase transitions of a wide range of colloidal and soft matter samples down to millisecond time scales. The novel multiangle laser ablation three-dimensional (3D) microstructuring approach combines, for the first time, the highly desirable characteristics of Kapton (high X-ray stability with low background, organic solvent compatibility) with a 3D flow-focusing geometry that minimizes mixing dispersion and wall agglomeration. As a model system, to demonstrate the performance of these 3D Kapton microfluidic devices, we selected the non-solvent-induced self-assembly of biocompatible and amphiphilic diblock copolymers. We then followed their structural evolution in situ at millisecond time scales using on-the-chip time-resolved small-angle X-ray scattering under continuous-flow conditions. Combined with complementary results from 3D finite-element method computational fluid dynamics simulations, we find that the nonsolvent mixing is mostly complete within a few tens of milliseconds, which triggers initial spherical micelle formation, while structural transitions into micelle lattices and their deswelling only occur on the hundreds of milliseconds to second time scale. These results could have an important implication for the design and formulation of amphiphilic polymer nanoparticles for industrial applications and their use as drug-delivery systems in medicine.