ACS applied materials & interfaces

Microfluidic Foaming: A Powerful Tool for Tailoring the Morphological and Permeability Properties of Sponge-like Biopolymeric Scaffolds.

PMID 26436204


Ordered porous polymeric materials can be engineered to present highly ordered pore arrays and uniform and tunable pore size. These features prompted a number of applications in tissue engineering, generation of meta materials, and separation and purification of biomolecules and cells. Designing new and efficient vistas for the generation of ordered porous materials is an active area of research. Here we investigate the potential of microfluidic foaming within a flow-focusing (FF) geometry in producing 3D regular sponge-like polymeric matrices with tailored morphological and permeability properties. The challenge in using microfluidic systems for the generation of polymeric foams is in the high viscosity of the continuous phase. We demonstrate that as the viscosity of the aqueous solution increases, the accessible range of foam bubble fraction (Φb) and bubble diameter (Db) inside the microfluidic chip tend to narrow progressively. This effect limits the accessible range of geometric properties of the resulting materials. We further show that this problem can be rationally tackled by appropriate choice of the concentration of the polymer. We demonstrate that via such optimization, the microfluidic assisted synthesis of porous materials becomes a facile and versatile tool for generation of porous materials with a wide range of pore size and pore volume. Moreover, we demonstrate that the size of interconnects among pores-for a given value of the gas fraction-can be tailored through the variation of surfactant concentration. This, in turn, affects the permeability of the materials, a factor of key importance in flow-through applications and in tissue engineering.