Monodisperse drops templated by 3D-structured microparticles

Sci Adv. 2020 Nov 4;6(45):eabb9023. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abb9023. Print 2020 Nov.


The ability to create uniform subnanoliter compartments using microfluidic control has enabled new approaches for analysis of single cells and molecules. However, specialized instruments or expertise has been required, slowing the adoption of these cutting-edge applications. Here, we show that three dimensional-structured microparticles with sculpted surface chemistries template uniformly sized aqueous drops when simply mixed with two immiscible fluid phases. In contrast to traditional emulsions, particle-templated drops of a controlled volume occupy a minimum in the interfacial energy of the system, such that a stable monodisperse state results with simple and reproducible formation conditions. We describe techniques to manufacture microscale drop-carrier particles and show that emulsions created with these particles prevent molecular exchange, concentrating reactions within the drops, laying a foundation for sensitive compartmentalized molecular and cell-based assays with minimal instrumentation.