Electrokinetic devices from polymeric materials

Abstract: There are multiple applications for polymers: our bodies are built of them, plastic bags and boxes used for storage are composed of them, as are the shells for electronics, TVs, computers, clothes etc. Many polymers are cheap, and easy to manufacture and process which make them suitable for disposable systems. The choice of polymer to construct an object will therefore highly influence the properties of the object itself. The focus of this thesis is the application of commonly used polymers to solve some challenges regarding integration of electrodes in electrokinetic devices and 3D printing.The first part of this thesis regards electrokinetic systems and the electrodes’ impact on the system. Electrokinetic systems require Faradaic (electrochemical) reactions at the electrodes to maintain an electric field in an electrolyte. The electrochemical reactions at the electrodes allow electron-to-ion transduction at the electrode-electrolyte interface, necessary to drive a current at the applied potential through the system, which thereby either cause flow (electroosmosis) or separation (electrophoresis). These electrochemical reactions at the electrodes, such as water electrolysis, are usually problematic in analytical systems and systems applied in biology. One solution to reduce the impact of water electrolysis is by replacing metal electrodes with electrochemically active polymers, e.g. poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) (PEDOT). Paper 1 demonstrates that PEDOT electrodes can replace platinum electrodes in a gel electrophoretic setup. Paper 2 reports an all-plastic, planar, flexible electroosmotic pump which continuously transports water from one side to the other using potentials as low as 0.3 V. This electroosmotic pump was further developed in paper 3, where it was made into a compact and modular setup, compatible with commercial microfluidic devices. We demonstrated that the pump could maintain an alternating flow for at least 96 h, with a sufficient flow of cell medium to keep cells alive for the same period of time.The second part of the thesis describes the use of 3D printers for manufacturing prototypes and the material requirements for 3D printing. Protruding and over-hanging structures are more challenging to print using a 3D printer and usually require supporting material during the printing process. In paper 4, we showed that polyethylene glycol (PEG), in combination with a carbonate-based plasticizer, functions well as a 3D printable sacrificial template material. PEG2000 with between 20 and 30 wt% dimethyl carbonate or propylene carbonate have good shear-thinning rheology, mechanical and chemical stability, and water solubility, which are advantageous for a supporting material used in 3D printing.The advances presented in this thesis have solved some of the challenges regarding electrokinetic systems and prototype manufacturing. Hopefully this will contribute to the development of robust, disposable, low-cost, and autonomous electrokinetic devices.

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