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Mapping inertial migration in the cross section of a microfluidic channel with high-speed imaging
The wide adoption of inertial microfluidics in biomedical research and clinical settings, such as rare cell isolation, has prompted the inquiry of its underlying mechanism. Although tremendous improvement has been made, the mechanism of inertial migration remains to be further elucidated. Contradicting observations are not fully reconciled by the existing theory, and details of the inertial migration within channel cross sections are missing in the literature. In this work, for the first time, we mapped the inertial migration pathways within channel cross section using high-speed imaging at the single-particle level. This is in contrast to the conventional method of particle streak velocimetry (PSV), which provides collective information. We also applied smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) to simulate the transient motion of particles in 3D and obtained cross-sectional migration trajectories that are in agreement with the high-speed imaging results. We found two opposing pathways that explain the contradicting observations in rectangular microchannels, and the force analysis of these pathways revealed two metastable positions near the short walls that can transition into stable positions depending on the flow condition and particle size. These new findings significantly improve our understanding of the inertial migration physics, and enhance our ability to precisely control particle and cell behaviors within microchannels for a broad range of applications.