Digital Microfluidics for the Detection of Inorganic Ions in Aerosols
The quantitative measurement of inorganic ions in the atmosphere is an important aspect in environmental science. The three most important inorganic ions are sulfate, nitrate and ammonium, which are the most abundant components of atmospheric pollutants and have a significant impact on rainfall, atmospheric visibility and human health. To accurately and quickly measure the distribution of inorganic ions in the vertical and horizontal directions of the atmosphere, a compact and automatic real-time detection system is in need.
The research performed in this study is aimed at developing the science and technology for an aerosol detection system that combines digital microfluidics technology, aerosol impaction and chemical detection on the same chip. The system will be smaller and faster with respect to current aerosol analyzing instruments. The chip in this study performs the integrated functions of aerosol collection, extraction, and quantitative detection in real-time, unlike current benchtop methods that require operator handling and laboratory equipment. All functions are realized in dedicated sections on a digital microfluidic platform.
This thesis will present the design and test of individual components of the aforementioned functions. The digital microfluidics chip design includes transparent top and bottom plates for light absorbance measurement. The droplets are dispensed, transported and mixed on chip with other droplets by activating electrodes individually with a 50V AC sine voltage.
In Chapters 3 and 4, the issues involving droplet transportation are addressed, including droplet movement between the air and silicone oil media and droplet transport across the aerosol impaction area. Next, an aerosol impactor and a chip-to-world chamber are demonstrated and tested with lab generated sulfate aerosol. The collected aerosol showed a clear pattern on the impaction plate, and the collection efficiency inside the chip was 96%.
In Chapter 5, the development of colorimetric methods are described as well as experimental testing for inorganic ion detection. Three well-known tests for detecting sulfate, nitrate and ammonium were first adjusted to adapt to on-chip measurement conditions, the adjustments including the choices of solvent, concentration ranges and mixing ratios. The particle measurement results using a conventional spectrometer were compared with on-chip measurements in terms of absorbance range, limit of detection, sensitivity (based on the coefficient of determination and the slope of the linear regression) and signal-to- noise ratio (presented with standard deviation/average of absorbance measurements).
The thin oil film between the droplet and the top/bottom plate, which is naturally formed, plays an important role in lubrication and reduces contact angle hysteresis. However, these oil films are not always uniform in thickness. During the absorbance measurement tests, varied sizes of oil lenses were observed at the oil/top plate interface, and the size and position of the oil lenses randomly changed when a droplet moved between electrodes. The absorbance measured in the normal direction to the chip’s surface was affected by these oil lenses and, thus, not stable for multiple measurements of the same droplet or for different droplets. To solve this problem, optical fibers were introduced horizontally inside the chip, and measurements taken in this direction proved to produce stable results.
Prototypes of the chip have been fabricated, and the impaction and on-chip colorimetric tests for sulfate and ammonium were successful. Although this study was designed to build the fundamentals of a novel detection system of inorganic ions in aerosol, the potential use of the designed system is not limited to atmospheric studies. Applications can extend to testing the quality of drinking water, detection of nitroaromatic explosives or other experiments based on colorimetry.
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