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Microfluidic Droplet Method for Nucleation Kinetics Measurements

P. Laval, A. Crombez, and J-B. Salmon — Langmuir 25 (2009) 1836

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In this work, we developed a microfluidic equivalent of the classical droplet method for investigating nucleation
kinetics. Our microfluidic device allows us to store hundreds of droplets of small volume (100 nL) and to accurately control their temperature. We also monitor directly all the stored droplets, and thus perform statistical measurements on a large number of nucleation events. In the case of aqueous solutions of potassium nitrate, we manage to investigate nucleation kinetics and polymorphs and quantify the influence of impurities. The use of small droplets is crucial in such experiments, since it allows the sample to reach high supersaturations and to separate all the nucleation events. Moreover, we compare our results to the classical nucleation theory, and we demonstrate unambiguously using direct observations of the droplets that nucleation in aqueous solutions of potassium nitrate always occurs using heterogeneous mechanisms.

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