Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering 24(3) (Mar 2014)
Low-cost, easily-fabricated and power-efficient microvalves are necessary for many microfluidic lab-on-a-chip applications. In this study, we present a simple, low-power, scalable, CMOS-compatible magnetic actuator for microvalve applications composed of a paramagnetic bead as the ball valve over a picoliter reaction well etched into a silicon substrate. The paramagnetic bead, composed of either pure FeSi or magnetite in a SiO2 matrix, is actuated by the local magnetic field gradient generated by a microcoil in an aqueous environment, and the reaction well is situated at the microcoil center. A permanent magnet beneath the microvalve device provides an external magnetic biasing field that magnetizes the bead, enabling bidirectional actuation and reducing the current required to actuate the bead to a level below 10 mA. The vertical and radial magnetic forces exerted on the bead by the microcoil were measured for both pure FeSi and composite beads and agree well with the predictions of 2D axisymmetric finite element method models. Vertical forces were within a range of 13-80 nN, and radial forces were 11-60 nN depending on the bead type. The threshold current required to initiate bead actuation was measured as a function of bead diameter and is found to scale inversely with volume for small beads, as expected based on the magnetic force model. To provide an estimate of the stiction force acting between the bead and the passivation layer on the substrate, repeated actuation trials were used to study the bead throw distance for substrates coated with silicon dioxide, Parylene-C, and photoresist. The stiction observed was lowest for a photoresist-coated substrate, while silicon dioxide and Parylene-C coated substrates exhibited similar levels of stiction.