We developed a microfluidic device to form monodisperse droplets with high productivity by anisotropic elongation of a thread flow, defined as a threadlike flow of a dispersed liquid phase in a flow of an immiscible, continuous liquid phase. The thread flow was anisotropically elongated in the depth direction in a straight microchannel with a step, where the microchannel depth changed. Consequently, the elongated thread flow was given capillary instability (Rayleigh-Plateau instability) and was continuously transformed into monodisperse droplets at the downstream area of the step in the microchannel. We examined the effects of the flow rates of the dispersed phase and the continuous phase on the droplet formation behavior, including the droplet diameter and droplet formation frequency. The droplet diameter increased as the fraction of the dispersed-phase flow rate relative to the total flow rate increased and was independent of the total flow rate. The droplet formation frequency proportionally increased with the total flow rate at a constant dispersed-phase flow rate fraction. These results are explained in terms of a mechanism similar to that of droplet formation from a cylindrical liquid thread flow by Rayleigh-Plateau instability. The microfluidic device described was capable of forming monodisperse droplets with a 160-microm average diameter and 3-microm standard deviation at a droplet formation frequency of 350 droplets per second from a single thread flow. The highest total flow rate achieved was 6 mL/h using the present device composed of a straight microchannel with a step. We also demonstrated parallel droplet formation by anisotropic elongation of multiple thread flows; the process was applied to form W/O and O/W droplets. The highly productive droplet formation process presented in this study is expected to be useful for future industrial applications.
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