Lubrication theory for electro-osmotic flow in a non-uniform electrolyte

Thomas L. Sounart, J. C. Baygents

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16 Scopus citations


A lubrication theory has been developed for the electro-osmotic flow of non-uniform buffers in narrow rectilinear channels. The analysis applies to systems in which the transverse dimensions of the channel are large compared with the Debye screening length of the electrolyte. In contrast with related theories of electrokinetic lubrication, here the streamwise variations of the velocity field stem from, and are nonlinearly coupled to, spatiotemporal variations in the electrolyte composition. Spatially nonuniform buffers are commonly employed in electrophoretic separation and transport schemes, including iso-electric focusing (IEF), isotachophoresis (ITP), field-amplified sample stacking (FASS), and high-ionic-strength electro-osmotic pumping. The fluid dynamics of these systems is controlled by a complex nonlinear coupling to the ion transport, driven by an applied electric field. Electrical conductivity gradients, attendent to the buffer non-uniformities, result in a variable electro-osmotic slip velocity and, in electric fields approaching 1 kV cm-1, Maxwell stresses drive the electrohydrodynamic circulation. Explicit semi-analytic expressions are derived for the fluid velocity, stream function, and electric field. The resulting approximations are found to be in good agreement with full numerical solutions for a prototype buffer, over a range of conditions typical of microfluidic systems. The approximations greatly simplify the computational analysis, reduce computation times by a factor 4-5, and, for the first time, provide general insight on the dominant fluid physics of two-dimensional electrically driven transport.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-172
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Apr 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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