Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Electrical Engineering

Major Professor

Jie Wu

Committee Members

Leon Tolbert, Ethan Farquhar, Frank Guess


AC Electrokinetics (ACEK) has attracted much research interest for microfluidic manipulation for the last few years. It shows great potential for functions such as micropumping, mixing and concentrating particles. Most of current ACEK research focuses on AC electroosmosis (ACEO), which is limited to solutions with conductivity less than 0.02 S/m, excluding most biofluidic applications. To solve for this problem, this dissertation seeks to apply AC electrothermal (ACET) effect to manipulate conductive fluids and particles within, and it is among the first demonstration of ACET devices, a particle trap and an ACET micropump. The experiments used fluids at a conductivity of 0.224 S/m that is common in bio-applications. Pumping and trapping were demonstrated at low voltages, reaching ~100 um/s for no more than 8 Vrms at 200 kHz. The flow velocity was measured to follow a quadratic relationship with applied voltage which is in accordance with theory.

This research also studies ACET effect on low ionic strength microfluidics, since Joule heating is ubiquitous in electrokinetic devices. One contribution is that our study suggested ACET as one possible reason of flow reversal, which has intrigued the researchers in ACEK field. Electrically, a microfluidic cell can be viewed as an impedance network of capacitances and resistors. Heat dissipation in those elements varies with AC frequency and fluid properties, so changes the relative importance of heat generation at the electrode/electrolyte interface and in the resistive fluid bulk, which could change the temperature gradient in the device, hence changing the flow direction. Another contribution of this dissertation is the reaction enhanced ACET micropumping. A dramatic improvement in flow rate over conventional ac micropumps is achieved by introducing a thin fluid layer of high ionic density near the electrodes. Such an ionic layer is produced by superimposing a DC offset on AC signal that induces Faradaic reaction. The velocity improvement, in some cases, is over an order of magnitude, reaching a linear velocity of up to 2.5 mm/s with only 5.4Vrms. This discovery presents an exciting opportunity of utilizing ACET effect in microfluidic applications.

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