Electro-osmotic Pumping and Ionic Conductance Measurements in Porous Membranes
Vajandar, Saumitra K
Electro-osmotic (EO) pumps directly convert electrical energy into fluids’ kinetic energy, which have many advantages such as a simple and compact structure, no mechanical moving parts, and easy integration. In general, it is easy for EO pumps to generate enough pressure but it has been a challenge for EO pumps to produce a high flowrate. EO pumps have found applications in various micro-/nano-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS/NEMS) and have the potential to impact a variety of engineering fields including microelectronics cooling and bio-analytical systems. This dissertation focuses on the design, fabrication and characterization of EO pumps based on two novel porous membrane materials: SiO2-coated anodic porous alumina and SiNx-coated porous silicon. High quality porous alumina membranes of controllable pore diameters in the range of 30-100 nm and pore lengths of 60-100 µm were fabricated by electrochemical anodization. The pores are straight, uniform and hexagonally close-packed with a high porosity of up to 50%. The inner surface of the pore was coated with a thin layer (~5 nm) of SiO2 conformally to achieve a high zeta potential. The EO pumping flowrate of the fabricated anodic alumina membranes, coated and uncoated, was experimentally measured. Results indicate that the high zeta potential of the SiO2 coating increases the pumping flowrate even though the coating reduces the porosity of the membrane. The nanostructured SiO2-coated porous anodic alumina membranes can provide a normalized flowrate of 0.125 ml/min/V/sq. cm. under a low effective applied voltage of 3 V, which sets a record high normalized flowrate under low applied voltage. To realize field effect control of EO pumping, we designed and fabricated SiNx-coated porous silicon membranes with the silicon core as the electrode to apply a transverse gate potential. The gate potential will modulate the zeta potential of the pore wall and thereby provide control over the EO flowrate. The membranes were fabricated out of heavily doped silicon wafers using microfabrication techniques. The pores have a 15 µm × 40 µm cross sectional area with a thin layer of SiNx coated conformally over the pores by low-pressure chemical vapor deposition (LPCVD). The range of gate voltages applied was from -45 V to +40 V. For Vg < 0, current leakage through the SiNx film was observed whereas negligible leaking current was detected for Vg > 0. This current rectification effect is known as electrolytic rectification, as a result of which a greater EO flow control, nearly 70% reduction in flow velocity, was observed for positive gate bias and 15% flow velocity enhancement under negative gate bias of similar magnitude. Ionic current is closely related to EO flow and the last part of the dissertation is devoted to ionic current measurements through commercially made nanoporous glass membranes (4 nm average pore diameter). This study was motivated by a molecular dynamics (MD) simulation highlighting an unusual ionic current trend in a 3 nm diameter pore having high surface charge density at high electrolyte concentrations. The ionic current was measured with two kinds of electrolytes – NaCl and KCl. The experimental results, however, indicated an expected linear trend of ionic current for electrolyte concentrations beyond 1 M, contrary to the results of the MD simulation study, which was attributed to a low surface charge density measured for the porous glass membranes.