Swelling-induced Patterning in Soft Microchannels

Haolin Li, Aidan Retallick, Anne Juel, Matthias Heil, Draga Pihler-Puzovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We study the effect of inflation on the swelling-induced wrinkling of thin elastic membranes in a setup that is commonly used to create microchannels in lab-on-chip applications. Using a combination of experiments and associated numerical simulations, we demonstrate that the out-of-plane deformation of the inflated membrane and the resulting anisotropic stress lead to two distinct instabilities as the swelling progresses. The membrane first develops small-amplitude wrinkles that retain the cross-channel symmetry. Their wavelength depends on the pressure and is set in a process similar to the axisymmetric buckling of pressurised, uni-axially compressed cylindrical shells. As swelling increases, the membrane undergoes a secondary instability during which the wrinkles coarsen into large-amplitude folds whose morphology can be controlled by the degree of pre-inflation. We elucidate the fundamental mechanisms responsible for this behaviour and explain how inflation can be used as a control mechanism in the manufacture of microchannels.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSoft Matter
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 12 Oct 2023


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