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Viscoelastic microfluidics: progress and challanges
The manipulation of cells and particles suspended in viscoelastic fluids in microchannels has drawn increasing attention, in part due to the ability for single-stream three-dimensional focusing in simple channel geometries. Improvement in the understanding of non-Newtonian effects on particle dynamics has led to expanding exploration of focusing and sorting particles and cells using viscoelastic microfluidics. Multiple factors, such as the driving forces arising from fluid elasticity and inertia, the effect of fluid rheology, the physical properties of particles and cells, and channel geometry, actively interact and compete together to govern the intricate migration behavior of particles and cells in microchannels. Here, we review the viscoelastic fluid physics and the hydrodynamic forces in such flows and identify three pairs of competing forces/effects that collectively govern viscoelastic migration. We discuss migration dynamics, focusing positions, numerical simulations, and recent progress in viscoelastic microfluidic applications as well as the remaining challenges. Finally, we hope that an improved understanding of viscoelastic flows in microfluidics can lead to increased sophistication of microfluidic platforms in clinical diagnostics and biomedical research.