Microflow valving and regulating are two important functions for microfluidic systems for applications such as Lab-on-Chip. Although silicon based counterparts have been studied extensively, few good technologies exist for polymer based microvalves and regulators. In this paper, we present designs and methods for microvalve and microflow regulators that are readily integrated into polymer microfluidic devices. The technologies utilize “air-pocket” structures built into the sidewalls of the microchannels. When liquid is filled in such a channel, air is trapped in “air pocket” structures due to the hydrophobicity of the polymer. By creating a small thermal gradient between the fluid in the channel and the air in the pockets, one can controllably evaporate fluid into the air pocket where it condenses. This displaces air out of the pocket into the flow channel, increasing the resistance to flow. The air valve retreats to its original pocket when the temperature gradient is removed, thus allowing one to increase or decrease fluid flow at will. If the temperature gradient is maintained long enough, the air will completely block the channel, forming an irreversible valving of the flow. Therefore, the same device can be used as either a valve or flow-regulating device. Microfluidic prototypes were built and tested using this technology. The results show successful constant flow delivery as well as valve function. This novel vapor based microflow valve and regulator has advantages of low cost, simple design, and both ease of fabrication and integration.

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