Patterning of Superhydrophobic Paper Surfaces for Microfluidic Applications

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Balamurali Balu
Victor Breedveld
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Dennis W. Hess
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Rene' Meadors
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US Patent 8,790,594

Plasma enhanced etching and chemical vapor deposition allow for the fabrication of superhydrophobic cellulose surfaces. Paper substrates with controlled surface properties can allow for precise control of liquid droplets.

Background: Lab-on-a-chip / microfluidic devices have experienced increased adoption in life sciences research and diagnostic applications. Paper-based microfluidic devices are promising because these devices are inexpensive and require much smaller fluid samples. Paper-based devices could lead to disposable diagnostics tests that are simple and abundant for use throughout the world.

Technology: Balamurali Balu, Victor Breedveld, and Dennis W. Hess from the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech have demonstrated the fabrication of superhydrophobic paper/cellulose surfaces with tunability in adhesive forces by using a two-step plasma enhanced etching/chemical vapor deposition process. The tunability of the system enables flexibility of the surface from extremely sticky to non-sticky or “roll-off” superhydrophobicity.  Patterns on paper substrates were designed and created using dots and lines printed by a desktop printer onto superhydrophobic sheets to create regions of variable adhesive force. Preliminary studies have demonstrated that superhydrophobic areas on non-sticky superhydrophobic surfaces can result in precise control and confinement of microliter water drops. The water drop adhesion/mobility can be controlled by varying the dot size and angle of inclination of the paper substrates. The two-dimensional nature of the paper substrate offers an alternative to three-dimensional channels commonly used in lab-on-a-chip / microfluidic devices.

Potential Commercial Applications: The paper substrates with controlled surface properties provide advantages for lab-on-a-chip / microfluidic devices in which individual drops can be manipulated on the surface, merged with other drops which may contain reactants, and stored on the surface as a final product for sampling. The most relevant market is the lab-on-a-chip market that is expected to increase to almost $9 billion annually by 2024.

Benefits / Advantages:

  • Enables tunability of adhesives forces on paper substrate to control liquid droplets
  • Provides an alternative to three-dimensional microfluidic channels
  • Inexpensive and easily fabricated from paper, a renewable biopolymer
  • Could lead to lab-on-a-chip / microfluidic devices used for diagnostic applications and/or life sciences research


Balamurali Balu- Former PhD student under Dr. Hess and Dr. Breedveld- Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Laurens Victor BreedveldAssociate Chair for Undergraduate Studies, Associate Professor, and Frank Dennis Faculty Fellow- Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Dennis W. HessProfessor and Thomas C. DeLoach, Jr. Chair- School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering