Bretton Fletcher*, Miguel Z. Rosales and Bruno F.B. Silva
Department of Physics, Department of Materials, and Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology Department, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, United States
Why is this useful?
Microfluidic chips are used for several different purposes in the lab. Experiments so diverse as nanoparticle synthesis; cell sorting; analytical determination of chemical and/or biological species; are all widely performed nowadays in many laboratories. Due to these so diverse applications, it is often hard to find parts (e.g. adaptors, tubing, etc) that fit the researcher’s needs for a particular project. Among these is the difficulty in finding suitable adapters to connect the microfluidic chip to tubing and syringes. A common difficulty is to connect small diameter tubing (inner diameter of 0.01 or 0.02”) to Luer adapters, which are normally designed to fit larger ID tubing sizes. A second common difficulty is the large dead volume normally associated with common Luer connectors. This can be a major setback when working with expensive and rare materials.
Nanoports from Upchurch® are a valid solution for these two problems, but they are expensive, and somewhat long and bulky, which may restrict some experiments. For instance, if the connector is long, it may restrict access of a microscope lens to the area around it.
Here we show a suitable way of preparing customized Luer adapters that (i) fit a wide range of microfluidic tubing; (ii) have very low dead volume requirements, and (iii) are smaller than most of the market alternatives.
What do I need?
- Natural Polypropylene Male Luer Coupler (Value Plastics, MLRLC-6). This design has the advantage of providing two custom connecters per original connecter (Figure 1). Other designs may be used, as long as one end has a Male Luer fitting. Other materials may also be used, provided that they bond with PDMS.
- Tygon Microbore Tubing, S-54-HL ID: .02in and ID: .04. Other sizes can be used.
- Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). We mix a 10 to 1 ration of silicone elastomer base and silicone elastomer curing agent.
- Devcon 5 Minute Epoxy
- Petri Dish, Tape, & Scissors
What do I do?
- Cut the cylindrical ends off either side of a Luer coupler to get two connector pieces (figure 1).
- Push a few centimeters of tubing into the rough (cut) side of one connector and out of the clean side (figure 2).
- Fix the connector and tubing vertically by attaching to a petri dish with tape so that the rough end faces up (figure 3).
- Apply epoxy to the top of the connector so that it completely plugs the opening and fixes the tubing in place. Wait for it to dry (figure 4). One of the main purposes of the epoxy is to fix the tubing to the connector. Since it is very viscous and dries quickly, this is very suitable.
- Once the epoxy dries, reattach the connector to the petri dish with the opposite end facing up, and fill the rest of the connector with PDMS. Be sure not to leave any air bubbles in the connector (figure 5).
- Place connector and tubing on aluminum foil in an oven for two hours at 60°C. Be sure not to let the tubing touch hot surfaces in the oven. At this temperature the PDMS cures adequately and the Tygon tubing does not degrade.
- Once the PDMS is completely hardened, cut off the excess tubing from the clean end of the connector for a smooth face (figure 6).
What else should I know?
This concept is very simple and can be extended to other types of tubing (material, diameter, etc) and connectors. By fixing one tube to one connector, we avoid all compatibility problems, and minimize possible leakage problems. The tubing and Luer connector become one single unit. With this comes the slight disadvantage that each connector will be associated permanently with one tube. We don’t find this discouraging. Since both tubing and connectors are relatively cheap, we prepare a whole range of connectors at a time that fit our needs. The total amount of work required is also not more than one hour, and does not require a high level of skill.
One advantage of this method, compared to other nice solutions shown here in “Chips and Tips”, is the lack of needles in the connector, which decreases the chance of leakages and needle-related injuries.
We have tested the connectors with water and protein solutions of intermediate viscosity at several flow rates and leaks from the Tygon tubing-connector junction were never detected.
The main purpose of the epoxy resin is to fix the tubing to the connector. Since it is very viscous and dries quickly, this is very suitable. A second advantage is that indeed, epoxy creates a rigid and robust junction between the Tygon tubing and the polypropylene material, making it very robust. The PDMS is then poured on top of the epoxy. Since the epoxy is porous, it would not be suitable to have in contact with the liquids under study. By isolating it with PDMS we fix this problem.