Drops; Thermal properties, Liquid films


In the recent years, there has been a growing interest in droplet-based (digital) microfluidic systems due to their ability to handle multiple discrete samples in a self-contained configuration compared to continuous flow systems. Various methods for droplet manipulation are currently available based on hydrodynamic, electrostatic, chemical, photonic and thermal interactions. High speed, controlled response and minimal thermal loading with least contamination are required in practical applications, especially in chemistry and biology. Although, thermal actuation of droplets has been recognized as an attractive choice due to a wide range of thermomechanical properties that can be exploited, the previous studies yielded limited success in addressing issues such as droplet evaporation, contamination, pinning, hysteresis and irreversibility that are associated with using solid substrate platforms In order to overcome shortcomings of traditional approaches, a novel thermally-actuated droplet manipulation platform based on using an inert liquid film was proposed and its working mechanisms were studied. Droplets at the air-liquid interface of immiscible liquids usually form partially submerged lens shapes (e.g. water on oil). In the thermally-induced motion of droplets on the free surface of immiscible liquid films, lens-shaped droplets move from warm toward cooler regions. In addition to this structure, we showed that droplets released from critical heights above the target liquid can sustain the impact iv and at the end maintain a spherical ball-shape configuration above the surface, despite undergoing large deformation. It was discovered in this study that such spherical droplets migrate in the opposite direction to lens droplets when subject to a thermal gradient; i.e. direction of increasing temperatures. The existence of this metastable spherical state above the free surface and its transition into more stable lens configuration was investigated using optical diagnostic tools and theoretical analysis. Opposite direction of motion observed for droplets at the free surface of immiscible liquids was explained based on droplet shape at the interface and the dynamics of thin liquid films subject to lateral thermal gradients: mainly 1) deformation of the free surface and 2) development of an outward moving flow (hot to cold) at the free surface due to surface tension gradients caused by thermal gradients. A lens droplet moves due to the free surface flow caused by Marangoni convection which is from hot to cold. On the other hand, the spherical droplet moves towards the maximum depression on the free surface, occurring at the hottest region as a result of the balance between gravity and drag forces from the opposing free surface flow. The proposed theoretical models predict experimental observations of droplet motion due to thermal gradients satisfactorily. Opposite responses of thermally-induced motion of lens and spherical droplets on a thin liquid layer, were characterized experimentally and compared to theory by v studying droplet motion in an exponentially-decaying temperature field maintained across the length of a shallow liquid layer. The effect of droplet size and magnitude of thermal gradient (slope) on drop velocity were investigated. The down-scaling effect is prominent, which shows that the proposed concept of droplet manipulation could be used favorably in miniaturized platforms. Based on the theoretical development and measurements obtained from meso-scale experiments, a silicon-based droplet transportation platform with embedded metal film micro heaters was developed. A thin layer of a chemically-inert and thermally stable liquid was chosen as the carrier liquid. Heaters were interfaced with control electronics and driven through a computer graphical user interface. By creating appropriate spatio-temporal thermal gradient maps, transport of droplets on predetermined pathways was demonstrated with a high level of controllability and speed.

Graduation Date





Kumar, Ranganathan


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering








Release Date


Length of Campus-only Access


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Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Engineering and Computer Science, Engineering and Computer Science -- Dissertations, Academic

YakhshiTafti_Ehsan_201012_PhD_1of8.mpeg (4892 kB)
Droplet Impact Video

YakhshiTafti_Ehsan_201012_PhD_2of8.wmv (2435 kB)
Droplet Breakup Video

YakhshiTafti_Ehsan_201012_PhD_3of8.wmv (6568 kB)
Free Surface Deformation Video

YakhshiTafti_Ehsan_201012_PhD_4of8.wmv (1185 kB)
Lens Droplet Motion Video

YakhshiTafti_Ehsan_201012_PhD_5of8.wmv (982 kB)
Spherical Droplet Motion Video

YakhshiTafti_Ehsan_201012_PhD_6of8.wmv (1798 kB)
Lens Droplet Motion - Infrared Video

YakhshiTafti_Ehsan_201012_PhD_7of8.wmv (1427 kB)
Spherical Drop Motion - Infrared Video

YakhshiTafti_Ehsan_201012_PhD_8of8.wmv (16662 kB)
Droplet Manipulation Platform Video

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