Fabricating microporous PDMS using a water-in-PDMS emulsion

Juyue Chen, Rui Zhang and Wei Wang propose a simple way to fabricate microporous PDMS, by evaporating water from an emulsion of PDMS pre-polymer and water.

Juyue Chena, Rui Zhangb and Wei Wang*a
a National Key Laboratory of Science and Technology on Micro/Nano Fabrication, Institute of Microelectronics, Peking University, Beijing 10871, P. R. China
b School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 10871, P. R. China

Why is this useful?

Microporous PDMS has been proposed as a functional PDMS material for cell culture related microfluidics applications where high gas perfusion is required to improve cell survival and functions. The phase separation micro-molding (PSμM) technique, which is widely used in microporous polymer preparation1, creates difficulties in fabricating microporous PDMS as there are many restrictions on the solvent – including high boiling point, low volatility, stability and appropriate compatibility with nonsolvent. Yuen reported that microporous PDMS can be simply prepared by curing PDMS pre-polymer with a porogen, such as salt or sugar particles, and then dissolving and washing away the porogen.2 However, it is difficult to obtain a microporous PDMS with pore size of micrometer scale by using this solid porogen. The small porogen makes the soaking and washing time cumbersome for most applications. As mentioned by Yuen, the porogen should be dissolved and washed away by soaking the PDMS and washing it in ethanol solution in an ultrasonic cleaner for at least 3 hours (longer may be required for smaller particles of porogen).

Fabrication of microporous PDMS

Figure 1. Fabrication of microporous PDMS by water-in-PDMS emulsion

Here, we propose a simple way to fabricate microporous PDMS using an emulsion of PDMS and water, as illustrated in  Figure 1. After manually blending the PDMS pre-polymer and water (1% SDS inside), water droplets were dispersed inside the PDMS pre-polymer. When the mixture is heated at a relatively low temperature (80oC) and in a relatively highly humid environment, the pre-polymer partially cures with the water droplets, keeping their original state. Through further curing at a higher temperature (120oC), the water trapped in the PDMS evaporates and leaves pores inside the PDMS matrix. Pore density is determined by the ratio of the water volume to the PDMS pre-polymer volume.

What do I need?

  • PDMS (Sylgard 184, Dow Corning Co.)
  • SDS (dodecyl sulfate sodium salt)
  • Deionised water
  • Petri dish
  • High temperature durable container
  • Oven

What do I do?

  1. Mix the PDMS according to the manufacturer’s instructions, with a mass ratio of base to curing agent of 10:1.
  2. Make the SDS solution, with a mass ratio of SDS to DI water of 1:100.
  3. Pour the PDMS pre-polymer and water (1% SDS inside) into a Petri dish with a given volume ratio, and manually blend them until a uniform emulsion (milky and opaque) is achieved. The water can be added step by step to facilitate the blending. Pore density is determined by the ratio of water volume to PDMS pre-polymer volume, as shown in Figure 2.

    SEM photos of microporous PDMS

    Figure 2. SEM photos of the prepared microporous PDMS. R = Vwater:VPDMS. (a) R = 0.01; (b) R = 0.05; (c) R = 0.3; (d) R = 0.7. All the scale bars represent 20μm

  4. Add some DI water in a high temperature durable container, and put the Petri dish with the water-in-PDMS emulsion inside on the water, then cover with the container lid. Put the container into the oven for about 2 hours at 80oC.
  5. Once the PDMS has been partially cured, remove the Petri dish from the container and finish curing it at a relatively high temperature in the oven for about 1 hour. After all the trapped water droplets have evaporated, the finished result is microporous PDMS.


[1] L. Vogelaar, R. G. H. Lammertink, J. N. Barsema, W. Nijdam, L. A. M. Bolhuis-Versteeg, C. J. M. van Rijn and M. Wessling, Phase separation micromolding: a new generic approach for microstructuring various materials, Small, 2005, 1, 645–655.
[2] P. K. Yuen, H. Su, V. N. Goral and K. A. Fink, Three-dimensional interconnected microporous poly(dimethylsiloxane) microfluidic devices, Lab Chip, 2011, 11, 1541-1544.

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