Rapid, chemical-free breaking of microfluidic emulsions with a hand-held antistatic gun

Biomicrofluidics. 2017 Jul 20;11(4):044107. doi: 10.1063/1.4995479. eCollection 2017 Jul.


Droplet microfluidics can form and process millions of picoliter droplets with speed and ease, allowing the execution of huge numbers of biological reactions for high-throughput studies. However, at the conclusion of most experiments, the emulsions must be broken to recover and analyze their contents. This is usually achieved with demulsifiers, like perfluorooctanol and chloroform, which can interfere with downstream reactions and harm cells. Here, we describe a simple approach to rapidly and efficiently break microfluidic emulsions, which requires no chemicals. Our method allows one-pot multi-step reactions, making it useful for large scale automated processing of reactions requiring demulsification. Using a hand-held antistatic gun, we pulse emulsions with the electric field, coalescing ∼100 μl of droplets in ∼10 s. We show that while emulsions broken with chemical demulsifiers exhibit potent PCR inhibition, the antistatic-broken emulsions amplify efficiently. The ability to break emulsions quickly without chemicals should make our approach valuable for most demulsification needs in microfluidics.