Efficient encapsulation with plug-triggered drop formation

Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2011 Sep;84(3 Pt 1):031502. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevE.84.031502. Epub 2011 Sep 22.


Monodisperse microscale drops formed with microfluidic devices are useful for encapsulating cells, microgel particles, or even additional drops. These techniques are thus useful for applications ranging from high-throughput biology to monodisperse particle and capsule synthesis, which require encapsulation of such objects. However, it is challenging to efficiently encapsulate the objects in all drops; often, the objects are encapsulated inefficiently, resulting in many improperly filled, unusable drops. Here, we describe a phenomenon that allows very efficient encapsulation. We use the inflow of the object to plug the drop maker nozzle; the continued injection of the outer phase pinches off a drop, thereby encapsulating the object; this yields precisely one object encapsulated per drop.