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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Transport and size-separation of airborne particles in a microchannel for continuous particle monitoring Schaap, Allison Schaap


Microfluidics research and development has emerged as a novel and promising tool for the development of sensors and actuators. However, one area in which microfluidics has been only minimally employed is in the handling of airborne particles, or aerosols. The real-time monitoring of aerosols is important for protecting human health and earth’s environment. The small size of microchannels, coupled with the opportunity to integrate sensing technologies, suggests them as a promising tool for the next generation of aerosol sensors. To that end, this thesis presents a microfluidics-based system for the size-separation of aerosols. Specifically, centrifugal force is exerted on each particle as it travels around a curved microchannel, resulting in the particle occupying a size-dependent lateral position in the channel. The behaviours of aerosols in a microchannel are examined, including the effects of flow focusing, the diffusion of airborne particles in a channel, and the centrifugal and viscous forces exerted on particles in a curved microchannel. Mathematical descriptions and computer simulations of these effects are developed to model these effects. Straight and curved microchannels were fabricated and each of these effects was measured experimentally, and compared to the models. Various combinations of airborne particles between 0.2 µm and 3.2 µm were successfully separated by size. A prototype optical particle detector was built and tested for its suitability as a candidate for integration with the microchannel particle separator. This represents the first approach in which aerosols have been separated by centrifugal forces in a microchannel, and one of very few approaches that have been used for any kind of size-based separation of airborne particles in microchannels. The small footprint and potential for integration offered by microsystem fabrication technology make it a desirable avenue of pursuit for the development of small, portable particulate monitors. The results presented here confirm that this approach to size-separation is a feasible option for a future microsystem based size-selective particulate monitor.

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