Fractionation of magnetic microspheres in a microfluidic spiral: interplay between magnetic and hydrodynamic forces
Magnetic forces and curvature-induced hydrodynamic drag have both been studied and employed in continuous microfluidic particle separation and enrichment schemes. Here we combine the two. We investigate consequences of applying an outwardly directed magnetic force to a dilute suspension of magnetic microspheres circulating in a spiral microfluidic channel. This force is realized with an array of permanent magnets arranged to produce a magnetic field with octupolar symmetry about the spiral axis. At low flow rates particles cluster around an apparent streamline of the flow near the outer wall of the turn. At high flow rates this equilibrium is disrupted by the induced secondary (Dean) flow and a new equilibrium is established near the inner wall of the turn. A model incorporating key forces involved in establishing these equilibria is described, and is used to extract quantitative information about the magnitude of local Dean drag forces from experimental data. Steady-state fractionation of suspensions by particle size under the combined influence of magnetic and hydrodynamic forces is demonstrated. Extensions of this work could lead to new continuous microscale particle sorting and enrichment processes with improved fidelity and specificity.