The tendency for flows in microfluidic systems to behave linearly poses challenges for designing integrated flow control schemes to carry out complex fluid processing tasks. This hindrance precipitated the use of numerous external control devices to manipulate flows, thereby thwarting the potential scalability and portability of lab-on-a-chip technology. Here, we devise a microfluidic network exhibiting nonlinear flow dynamics that enable new mechanisms for on-chip flow control. This network is shown to exhibit oscillatory output patterns, bistable flow states, hysteresis, signal amplification, and negative-conductance transitions, all without reliance on dedicated external control hardware, movable parts, flexible components, or oscillatory inputs. These dynamics arise from nonlinear fluid inertia effects in laminar flows that we amplify and harness through the design of the network geometry. These results, which are supported by theory and simulations, have the potential to inspire development of new built-in control capabilities, such as on-chip timing and synchronized flow patterns.
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