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Microfluidic Polymer Valves


In a technological breakthrough, Sandia researchers have developed polymer microvalves to allow fluids to be shuttled as easily in microfluidic chips as they are on a laboratory benchtop. The valves are photopatterned, cast-to-shape microscale polymer elements that can be used to isolate electric fields, and, as a consequence, locally isolate electroosmotic or electrophoretic flows. The valves can be actuated by applying pressure to move them inside a microfluidic channel in order to open and close flow pathways, isolating and manipulating the fluids of interest.


Sandia’s isolated cast-in-place microvalves feature the only architecture currently available that enables control of high-pressure (350 bar) fluid flow in microchannels, while simultaneously controlling high-voltage (1 kV). Sandia’s microfluidic polymer valves enable micro-scale systems to apply high-pressure techniques with a wide range of chemical solvents while retaining easy control of microfluidic pathways. These valves are chemically inert, preventing adsorption of species on the valve surface, and enabling low-friction valve motion.


  • Effectively control both electrokinetic and high-pressure hydraulic flow.
  • Greater process speeds using minuscule volumes of reagents, which saves money
  • Significantly rapid response time (in milliseconds).
  • Does not dissipate heat to the substrate
  • Multiple microvalves may be placed on a chip for about 5 cents in materials cost
  • Photopatterning the microvalves is rapid--only taking from 5 to 90 seconds.
  • Valves can be operated in harsh, aggressive solvents as well as typical analytical solvents (such as water, methanol, and acetonitrile).
  • No electrical power is dissipated into the fluid during valve operation.
  • The microvalve dielectric strength is comparable to glass.
  • Quantitative analysis is possible since common biochemical analytes neither react with nor adhere to valve surfaces.

Applications and Industries

  • Miniaturization of gradient liquid chromatography analysis
  • Chemical processing
  • Chemical reactions
  • Multi-dimensional separations
  • Detection of biological and chemical agents
  • Drug development
  • Detection of trace chemical impurities
  • Isolation, sorting, and manipulation of biological samples

Additional Information


D.S. Reichmuth, T.J. Shepodd, B.J. Kirby. (2005). “Microchip HPLC of Peptides and Proteins,” Analytical Chemistry, vol 77(9), pp 2997-3000. [online]. Available:

 B.J. Kirby, D.S. Reichmuth, R.F. Renzi, T.J. Shepodd, B.W. Wiedenman.(2005). “Microfluidic Routing of Aqueous and Organic Flows at High Pressures:Fabrication and Characterization of Integrated Polymer Microvalve Elements,” Lab on a Chip,  vol 5(2), pp 184-190. [online]. Available:

 D.S. Reichmuth, T.J. Shepodd, B.J. Kirby. (2004). “On-chip High-Pressure Picoliter Injector for Pressure-Driven Flow Through Porous Media,” Analytical Chemistry, vol 76(17), pp 5063-5068.[online]. Available:

 Brian J. Kirby and Timothy Shepodd.(2002). “Microvalve Architectures for High-Pressure Hydraulic and Electrokinetic Fluid Control in Microchips”. MicroTAS 2002, Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 338-340. [online]. Available:

 Brian Kirby, Timothy Shepodd, Ernest Hasselbrink. (2002). “Voltage-Addressable on/off Microvalves for High-Pressure Microchip Separations”. Journal of Chromatography. 979, pp 147-154. [online]. Available:

Ernest Hasselbrink, Timothy Shepodd, Jason Rehm. (2002).“High-Pressure Microfluidic Control in Lab-on-a-Chip Devices Using Mobile Polymer Monoliths”. Analytical Chemistry. 74, pp 4913-4918. [online]. Available:

Jason Rehm, Timothy Shepodd, Ernest Hasselbrink. (2001).“Mobile Flow Control Elements for High-Pressure Micro-Analytical Systems Fabricated Using In-Situ Polymerization”. Micro Total Analysis Systems 2001, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001. [online]. Available:


Intellectual Property

ID Number
Patent Number
Method for producing high dielectric strength microvalves 8421.1 7,022,381 04/04/2006
Fluorinated silica microchannel surfaces 8392.0 6,865,939 03/15/2005
Mobile monolithic polymer elements for flow control in microfluidic devices 8386.0 6,952,962 10/11/2005
Mobile monolithic polymer elements for flow control in microfluidic devices 8386.1 6,988,402 01/24/2006
Mobile monolithic polymer elements for flow control in microfluidic devices 8298.0 6,782,746 08/31/2004
Technology IDSD#8298AvailabilityAvailablePublished09/29/2011Last Updated01/23/2013