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14 February 2011 Fabrication and testing of thermally responsive hydrogel-based actuators using polymer heater elements for flexible microvalves
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We present the design, fabrication and characterization of a mechanically flexible diaphragm-based microvalve actuator employing a reservoir of the thermally responsive hydrogel PNIPAAm and a conductive nanocomposite polymer (C-NCP) heater element. The microvalve actuator can be fabricated employing traditional soft lithography processes for fabrication of all components, including the tungsten-based C-NCP heater element, the hydrogel reservoir, and the deflecting polymer membrane. Shrinking of the hydrogel under the application of heat supplied by the flexible heater, or the removal of this thermal energy by turning off the heater, forces the diaphragm to move. The silicone diaphragm actuator is compatible with a normally-closed polymer microvalve design where-by the fluidic channel can be opened and closed via the hydrogel diaphragm actuator, in which the hydrogel is normally swollen and heating opens the valve via membrane deflection. Our prototype hydrogel actuator diaphragms are between 100-200 micrometers in diameter, and experimentally deflect approximately 100 micrometers under heating to 32 degrees ºC or above, which is sufficient to theoretically open a microvalve to allow flow to pass through a 100 micrometer deep channel. We characterize the flexible tungsten C-NCP heaters for voltage versus temperature and show that the flexible heaters can reach the hydrogel transition temperature of 32 degrees °C at approximately 13-15 V. We further characterize the hydrogel response to heat, and diaphragm deflection using both hot plate and flexible C-NCP heater elements. While our results show diaphragm deflection adequate for microvalves at a reasonable voltage, the speed of deflection is currently very slow and would result in slow microvalve response speed (30 seconds to open the valve, and 120 seconds to reclose it).
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Ang Li, Ajit Khosla, Connie Drewbrook, and Bonnie L. Gray "Fabrication and testing of thermally responsive hydrogel-based actuators using polymer heater elements for flexible microvalves", Proc. SPIE 7929, Microfluidics, BioMEMS, and Medical Microsystems IX, 79290G (14 February 2011);

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