Effect of surfactant dynamics on flow patterns inside drops moving in rectangular microfluidic channels

Nina M. Kovalchuk*, Mark J.H. Simmons

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Downloads (Pure)


Drops contained in an immiscible liquid phase are attractive as microreactors, enabling sound statistical analysis of reactions performed on ensembles of samples in a microfluidic device. Many applications have specific requirements for the values of local shear stress inside the drops and, thus, knowledge of the flow field is required. This is complicated in commonly used rectangular channels by the flow of the continuous phase in the corners, which also affects the flow inside the drops. In addition, a number of chemical species are present inside the drops, of which some may be surface-active. This work presents a novel experimental study of the flow fields of drops moving in a rectangular microfluidic channel when a surfactant is added to the dispersed phase. Four surfactants with different surface activities are used. Flow fields are measured using Ghost Particle Velocimetry, carried out at different channel depths to account for the 3-D flow structure. It is shown that the effect of the surfactant depends on the characteristic adsorption time. For fast-equilibrating surfactants with a characteristic time scale of adsorption that is much smaller than the characteristic time of surface deformation, this effect is related only to the decrease in interfacial tension, and can be accounted for by the change in capillary number. For slowly equilibrating surfactants, Marangoni stresses accelerate the corner flow, which changes the flow patterns inside the drop considerably.

Original languageEnglish
Article number40
Number of pages21
JournalColloids and Interfaces
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, UK, through the PREMIERE Programme Grant EP/T000414/1.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Aqueous/oil interface
  • Characteristic adsorption time
  • Corner flow
  • Drop microfluidics
  • Flow pattern
  • Langmuir isotherm parameters
  • Multiphase flow
  • Rectangular channel
  • Sur-factant dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Effect of surfactant dynamics on flow patterns inside drops moving in rectangular microfluidic channels'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this