Fabrication of Rugged and Reliable Fluidic Chips for Autonomous Environmental Analyzers Using Combined Thermal and Pressure Bonding of Polymethyl Methacrylate Layers

ACS Omega. 2019 Dec 5;4(25):21131-21140. doi: 10.1021/acsomega.9b01918. eCollection 2019 Dec 17.


The fabrication of highly reliable and rugged fluidic chips designed for use in autonomous analyses for nutrient monitoring is described. The chips are based on a two-layer configuration with the fluidic channels produced in one layer using precision micromilling. The second capping layer contains through holes for sample/standard and reagent addition and waste removal post-analysis. Two optically clear polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) windows are integrated into the opaque PMMA chip, orthogonal to a 22.5 mm-long section of the channel downstream from a serpentine reagent and sample/standard mixing region. An LED source is coupled into the channel through one of the windows, and the light intensity is monitored with a photodiode located at the distal end of the channel outside the second optically clear window. Efficient coupling of the source through the channel to the detector is achieved using custom-designed alignment units produced using 3D printing. In contrast to fluidic chips produced using solvent adhesion, the thermal-/pressure-bonded simplified method presented removes the need for surface treatment. Optimization of the thermal/pressure conditions leads to very strong adhesion between the PMMA layers, requiring forces in the region of 2000 N to separate them, which is necessary for the use in long-term deployments. Profilometry imaging shows minimal evidence of channel distortion after bonding. Finally, we show the potential of these techniques for environmental applications. The fluidic chips were integrated into prototype nutrient analyzers that display no evidence of leakage in extensive lab tests involving 2500 phosphate measurements using the yellow (vanadomolybdophosphoric acid) method. Similarly, excellent analytical performance (LOD is 0.09 μM) is reported for a 28-day field trial comprising 188 in situ autonomous phosphate measurements (564 measurements) in total including calibration.