A tunable three-dimensional printed microfluidic resistive pulse sensor for the characterization of algae and microplastics
Technologies that can detect and characterize particulates in liquids have applications in health, food, and environmental monitoring. Simply counting the numbers of cells or particles is not sufficient for most applications; other physical properties must also be measured. Typically, it is necessary to compromise between the speed of a sensor and its chemical and biological specificity. Here, we present a low-cost and high-throughput multiuse counter that classifies a particle’s size, concentration, and shape. We also report how the porosity/conductivity or the particle can influence the signal. Using an additive manufacturing process, we have assembled a reusable flow resistive pulse sensor capable of being tuned in real time to measure particles from 2 to 30 μm across a range of salt concentrations, i.e., 2.5 × 10–4 to 0.1 M. The device remains stable for several days with repeat measurements. We demonstrate its use for characterizing algae with spherical and rod structures as well as microplastics shed from tea bags. We present a methodology that results in a specific signal for microplastics, namely, a conductive pulse, in contrast to particles with smooth surfaces such as calibration particles or algae, allowing the presence of microplastics to be easily confirmed and quantified. In addition, the shapes of the signal and of the particle are correlated, giving an extra physical property to characterize suspended particulates. The technology can rapidly screen volumes of liquid, 1 mL/min, for the presence of microplastics and algae.
EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Embedded Intelligence under grant reference EP/ L014998/1
- Mathematical Sciences