Point of care medical instruments benefit from compact fluid handling systems in the microliter range. To handle fluid volumes this small, many novel technologies have been studied. Pneumatic valves offer advantages over other microfluidic valves, including robustness and low cost. These valves are used in centrifugal microfluidic devices, a very active area of research, and take advantage of pneumatic and centrifugal pressure to aliquot and control the flow of fluid. The physics of fluids at the micrometer scale are complex and modelling their behavior using CFD software is challenging. Representing adhesion, surface tension, and other multiphase interactions is critical to accurately model microfluidic behavior. Centrifugal devices must also consider Coriolis, centrifugal, and Euler effects.
In this study, a pneumatic valve was designed and simulated using commercial CFD software. The device was also fabricated for verification of the simulation. The simulation demonstrated the multiphase interactions of fluid and air within the rotating device. In a transient analysis of the model, a 6 μl volume of water is held in stable equilibrium by a compressed volume of air at low RPM, while at a higher RPM, the fluid is observed to displace the compressed air as a result of Rayleigh-Taylor instability. Actual devices with comparable geometry were built and tested. The behavior of the valve predicted in the model was in agreement with experimental results produced from the actual devices. The results of the simulation captured the stabilizing effect of both pneumatic pressure and surface tension at low RPM, as well as the instability that results from increased centrifugal and Euler pressure at higher RPM.