Molecular and Nanomaterial Synthesis
Microfluidic systems have found significant utility in the broad field of molecular synthesis. Put simply, the advantages associated with performing chemistry in microfluidic environments are significant and arise due to the scale-dependence of heat and mass transfer. These advantages, which include the ability to process reduced reagent volumes, improved reaction selectivity, the acceleration of mass-transfer limited reactions, small reactor footprints, enhanced safety and facile routes to scale-out, have made the technology set attractive as a synthetic tool. To this end, we have spent significant time in assessing the merits of microfluidic reactors.
For example, early studies from our group were the first to demonstrate small molecule combinatorial chemistry in flow-based environments ☍. Subsequently, we realized that continuous flow microfluidics should find significant utility in the controlled synthesis of nanoscale materials, due to the unique ability to temporally discriminate particle nucleation and growth processes. Our 2002 report of controlled quantum dot synthesis in a continuous flow microfluidic reactor demonstrated that CdS quantum dots prepared on the microscale exhibit superior monodispersity when compared to materials prepared in conventional macroscale reactors ☍. Since this initial publication we have detailed high efficiency routes for the synthesis of a range of nanomaterials, including CdS, CdSe, TiO2, Au, Fe2O3, PbS, PbSe, CsPbX3 perovskites, CdSeTe, CuInS2, CuInS2/ZnS, Fe3O4 and polymeric coacervates ☍. More recently, a key theme of our work in this area has been the development of “intelligent” systems for the generation of bespoke nanoscale materials. Briefly, microfluidic reactors integrated with real time product detection and a control system can perform and assay thousands of reactions within very short timeframes. We introduced such a strategy in 2007 ☍, and since this time have used a variety of algorithms and metamodeling techniques to realize fully automated reactors for the production of a range of nanoscale materials ☍.
It should also be noted that we have used a range of chamber-based, continuous-flow and segmented-flow microfluidic formats for the amplification of nucleic acids via the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) ☍ ☍ ☍. In all cases the enhanced mass and/or thermal transport that characterizes microfluidic processing leads to significant gains in terms of assay speed, analytical throughput and reaction efficiency.