Experimental and numerical investigations of hydrodynamic focusing of colloidal dispersions

Sammanfattning: Dispersed non-spherical particles are the fundamental constituent of many complex fluids. Such fluids are studied both for their industrial and scientific importance, and for their peculiar functional properties (mechanical, optical, thermal, fluidic). One exemplar is cellulose nanofibrils (CNF), a biopolymer made of nanoscale particles with remarkable mechanical properties that has been found to be the potential candidate for the fabrication of sustainable and bio-compatible materials. To synthesize and characterise the behaviour of such non-spherical particles in flowing dispersions, microfluidic platforms have emerged as powerful tools. However, the scientific understanding of the fundamental role of the fluid dispersion properties and flow parameters on the microflow dynamics is still inadequate.  In this thesis work, a combined numerical and experimental investigation with diverse set of microfluidic flow focusing devices are adopted to measure, analyse, and understand the micro-  and macro-scale morphologies of flowing dispersions. A high-viscosity colloidal dispersion liquid made of cellulose nanofibrils suspended in water (the solvent) is hydrodynamically focused with the low-viscosity solvent liquid. A 3D colloidal viscous thread structure is formed, which is characterized using optical coherence tomography (OCT) measurements and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations. The studies show that if the Péclet number is large (diffusion of the particles is slower than the convective time scale of the flow), the concentration gradient between two in-homogeneous miscible fluids (colloidal dispersion and its own solvent) gives rise to Korteweg stresses, emulating the effect of interfacial tension in the form of effective interfacial tension (EIT). In addition, scaling laws describing the complex interplay between viscous, inertial and capillary effects in microchannels have been identified, and are in turn used to estimate the fluid properties.Further, the collective behaviour of nanofibrils in the studied flow fields is investigated. Numerically modelled orientation distribution functions (ODF)  are compared with in-situ small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) measurements. The calibrated SAXS-based digital twin model unveils complete 3D nanoparticle orientation both along the streamwise and cross-sectional planes of the channels. Overall, the key findings of this work open up possibilities in controlling the hydrodynamic assembly of nanoparticles in microchannels.