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Multiphase microfluidic devices for chemical synthesis and purification


Project description

Microfluidic devices and microreactors are increasingly important in a wide range of chemical and biochemical applications. One particularly useful approach is to package reactants within one segment of alternating organic / aqueous segmented solvent flow. Although this approach offers significant advantage over homogenous solvent systems the post-reaction separation of the two immiscible phases has relied on macro scale approaches that are unsuitable for continuous processing on the micro-scale. 

However, a recent and significant development from our laboratories has been the development of an operational ‘on-chip’ phase separator (a chip based microfluidic device that separates organic / aqueous segmented flow into its component parts). 

The importance of this work lies in the fact that it is an enabling technology and will provide a way forward for a number of ‘lab-on-a-chip’ applications, allowing for the first time flexible manipulation of compartmentalised multi-solvent systems in a range of sought after ‘on-chip’ applications including chemical synthesis, chemical purification, sample preparation and compound isolation. A key, and again unique, observation made during the testing of the device was that solid materials could be incorporated and maintained within either the organic or the aqueous phase dependent on the hydrophobicity of the materials. We subsequently demonstrated how such materials (typically 5um spheres), such as molecularly imprinted polymers, silica absorbent and heterogeneous catalysts, can be used to influence both the outcome of chemical reactions and also solvent partitioning under continuous flow conditions. Importantly we have also demonstrated that the incorporation of such materials does not affect the performance of the phase separator.

Aims of Project

 This project will build upon these achievements with the aim of developing a range of generic microfluidic devices for performing continuous on-chip reactions and product isolations using multi-phase (organic, aqueous and solid phase).


1. Novel Biphasic Separations Utilising Highly Selective Molecularly Imprinted Polymers as Biorecognition Solvent Extraction Agents, Oliver K. Castell, Christopher J. Allender and David A. Barrow. Biosensors and Bioelectronics, Volume 22, Issue 4, 15 October 2006, Pages 526-533 

2. Microchip solid-phase-enhanced liquid-liquid extractions utilising highly selective molecularly imprinted polymers as chemo-recognition solvent extraction agents. Oliver K. Castell, David A. Barrow and Christopher J. Allender. Proceedings of microTAS 2006, 5-9 Nov 2006, Tokyo, Japan. pp. 891-893. Japan Academic Association Inc. ISBN 4-9903269-0-3 

3. Continuous Molecular Specific Enrichment in Microfluidic Systems, Oliver K. Castell, David A. Barrow and Christopher J. Allender. Lab on a chip, Submitted Dec 2007 

4. Microfluidic Phase Separation Oliver K. Castell, David A. Barrow and Christopher J. Allender. Lab on a chip, Submitted Jan 2008


3 years

Additional Information


ENGIN: Prof. David Barrow (Microfluidics Research Laboratory) []

Dr Chris Allender

Position:Senior Lecturer
Staff Photo
Telephone: +44 (0)29 208 75824Extension: 75824