(182c) Electro-Hydrodynamic Behavior of Soft Liquid Metal Plugs Under Low Voltages

Authors: 
Joshipura, I. D., North Carolina State University
Dickey, M. D., North Carolina State University
This work characterizes the behavior of a eutectic alloy of gallium and indium (75% Ga, 25% In, by weight, ‘EGaIn’) in response to electric fields. The metal is a liquid at room temperature (M.P., 15.5 °C) and exhibits low toxicity. These fluidic metals may be injected into microfluidic systems, fibers, and capillary networks to form soft electronic devices that are soft and compliant. Once injected, the metal remains in its place because of the adhesive nature of its thin native oxide. Preventing the oxide adhesion within microchannels enables reversible actuation of EGaIn. Actuating liquid metals may be useful for soft actuators, reconfigurable optical displays, frequency tunable antennas, and other opto-fluidic technologies.

In this work, we utilize low voltages (<2 V) to reversibly move droplets of EGaIn through microchannels. Pre-wetting the channels with an aqueous solution prior to injecting the metal prevents oxide adhesion; the water forms an interfacial ‘slip-layer’ the metal and channel wall. Thereafter, an applied electric field (~10-20 V/m) actuates the liquid metal by establishing a gradient of surface tension; this effect is known as continuous electrowetting (CEW). Although CEW has been utilized before with mercury, which is toxic, the adhesive nature of the Ga oxide complicates CEW behavior. This work utilizes optical microscopy, cyclic voltammetry, and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) to characterize electro-hydrodynamics of the system under a variety of conditions. Specifically, we elucidate the influence of electrolyte (i.e., composition, pH, and viscosity) on the metal-electrolyte interface. In addition, we compare electro-hydrodynamic behavior of EGaIn with and without the presence of an oxide ‘skin.’ Finally, this work explores novel microfabrication strategies to design interfaces that prevent oxide adhesion.