Microfluidic systems are now being designed with precision as miniaturized fluid manipulation devices that can execute increasingly complex tasks. However, their operation often requires numerous external control devices owing to the typically linear nature of microscale flows, which has hampered the development of integrated control mechanisms. Here we address this difficulty by designing microfluidic networks that exhibit a nonlinear relation between the applied pressure and the flow rate, which can be harnessed to switch the direction of internal flows solely by manipulating the input and/or output pressures. We show that these networks— implemented using rigid polymer channels carrying water—exhibit an experimentally supported fluid analogue of Braess’s paradox, in which closing an intermediate channel results in a higher, rather than lower, total flow rate. The harnessed behaviour is scalable and can be used to implement flow routing with multiple switches. These findings have the potential to advance the development of built-in control mechanisms in microfluidic networks, thereby facilitating the creation of portable systems and enabling novel applications in areas ranging from wearable healthcare technologies to deployable space systems.
ASJC Scopus subject areas