Aniosotropic particles align perpendicular to the flow-direction in narrow microchannels
Stephan Förster, Martin Trebbin, Julian Thiele, Walter Zimmermann, Dagmar Steinhauser, Jan Perlich, Adeline Buffet, Stephan V. Roth:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(17), 6706-6711: PNAS (2013).
doi: 10.1073/pnas.1219340110


The flow orientation of anisotropic particles through narrow channels is of importance in many fields, ranging from the spinning and molding of fibers to the flow of cells and proteins through thin capillaries. It is commonly assumed that anisotropic particles align parallel to the flow direction. When flowing through narrowed channel sections, one expects the increased flow rate to improve the parallel alignment. Here, we show by microfocus synchrotron X-ray scattering and polarized optical microscopy that anisotropic colloidal particles align perpendicular to the flow direction after passing a narrow channel section. We find this to be a general behavior of anisotropic colloids, which is also observed for disk-like particles. This perpendicular particle alignment is stable, extending downstream throughout the remaining part of the channel. We show by microparticle image velocimetry that the particle reorientation in the expansion zone after a narrow channel section occurs in a region with considerable extensional flow. This extensional flow is promoted by shear thinning, a typical property of complex fluids. Our discovery has important consequences when considering the flow orientation of polymers, micelles, fibers, proteins, or cells through narrow channels, pipes, or capillary sections. An immediate consequence for the production of fibers is the necessity for realignment by extension in the flow direction. For fibrous proteins, reorientation and stable plug flow are likely mechanisms for protein coagulation.