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Microflusa Report Summary

Project ID: 664823
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.2.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Microflusa (Fabricating colloidal materials with microfluidics)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2016-08-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Today, in the field of colloidal science, much effort is dedicated to the synthesis of complex building blocks mimicking molecular structures. By assembling them in large quantities, our hope is to elaborate innovative materials possessing interesting photonic, microwave or acoustic properties. Among these materials, photonic structures with a complete forbidden band gap in the visible range deserve particular attention, because they have the ability to drive light in channels, in a way analogous to microelectronics with electrons. If such materials could be realized under low cost conditions, one could expect a breakthrough in the field of optoelectronics. Today, materials such as these, do not exist. They could be made, in principle, by using standard techniques of microfabrication, such as deposition, etching, high resolution photolithography, or 3D printing, assuming that in the future, resolutions will become appropriate. However, these techniques are slow and costly, and thereby are not compatible with obtaining low cost devices. This is where colloidal approach comes into play. The colloidal approach consists in elaborating elementary blocks, and using a self assembly process to make materials. In essence, this consists in dropping thousands of complex particles in a vessel and wait for spontaneous organization to take place. The MicroFlusa project stands in this framework.

ESPCI/MMN discovered, prior to the beginning, a novel method for making colloidal building blocks. The method consists in emitting droplets aggregates in a microfluidic channel and, by harnessing hydrodynamic interactions, reshape these clusters into well controlled structures, such as trimers, tetrahedrons etc. These structures are remarkably monodisperse, and can be produced without defect in quantities of thousands per hour. This observation, yielding a novel methodology for forming building blocks of high quality and diversity, was the starting point of the project.
To move from these building blocks to the elaboration of materials, a number of tasks must be performed. These tasks are cross-disciplinary, because they concern issues related to the fields of chemistry, physico-chemistry, hydrodynamics, optics, at experimental, theoretical and numerical levels. This is why MICROFLUSA gathered a consortium including chemists, hydrodynamicists (theory, numerics and experiment) and optics experts.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The first year is dedicated in establishing the foundations: series of experiments were carried out in order to analyze the plug formation process in the particular geometry we use in the project. This geometry, in which channel heights are much smaller than channel widths, allows to minimize volumes and thus cluster sizes. Thereby, with this approach, it becomes easier reach micrometer dimensions, closer to the optical range we target. In such a geometry, we discovered a new, unexpected regime, that is worth being analyzed from a fundamental prospective. This regime produces plugs of sizes diminishing with the speed, according to a power law that we did not succeed to explain. These observations challenge our Technion colleagues, and we hope, in the future to offer a full description of this regime, including theory and experiments.

This work has been reinforced by numerical simulations made in Stockholm. The KTH team carried out hydrodynamic direct simulations that could reproduce well the formation of well defined, symmetric, building blocks from featureless clusters of droplets. These results are encouraging. However, the agreement between numerics and experiments was obtained at the expense of assimilating droplets to rigid spheres and using a model of Van der Waals forces incorporating unrealistically large spatial extensions. In practice, micrometers instead of nanometers. Based on this model, numerics shows how droplet clusters, mutually attracted, evolve towards symmetric shapes, trimers, quadrimers, ... exactly as in the experiment. Further work is needed to figure out the reason why so large Van der Waals forces must be used to mimick the experiments.

In parallel with these hydrodynamic contributions, Technion has proposed an interesting structure that could give rise to materials with forbidden band gaps, easier to fabricate than in previous work. The material is in form of a square lattice of droplets encapsulating dimers, aligned in a prescribed direction. These structures develop a complete band gap. The advantage of this approach is twofold: the properties are obtained with the direct structure, and, thanks to the droplet-based template, which can be produced with high crystallinity, the process is suitable for minimizing the number structural defects. One limitation of this structure is the smallness of the width of the band gap, which, in the best case, does not exceed 8%, a figure significantly below the diamond structure. This may raise issues concerning the sensitivity of the material behavior with respect to mechanical distorsions, defects, however small their number can be.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

During the first year, three results going beyond the state-of-the art have been obtained.

1) We discovered a new, unexpected regime, of production of droplets in T-junctions, associated to a power law that remains to be explained. Owing to the importance of this geometry in the domain of droplet based microfluidics, this result should generate interest in the community.

2) We explained qualitatively the reshapening of droplet aggregates in a hydrodynamic channel.

3) We discovered a new structure that develops a complete band gap in 3D. The advantage of this approach is twofold: the properties are obtained with the direct structure, and, owing to its simplicity, the self-assembly process could be deployed without generating a significant number of defects. This structure may be the leading edge of a new family of structures giving rise to interesting photonic properties.

At the moment, we made scientific contributions beyond the state-of-the art. Societal impact is not clearly visible, but it stands in the perspective of this work. Scientific impacts concern the fields of fluid mechanics and photonic materials.

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