Date of Thesis



A novel microfluidic method is proposed for studying diffusion of small molecules in a hydrogel. Microfluidic devices were prepared with semi-permeable microchannels defined by crosslinked poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG). Uptake of dye molecules from aqueous solutions flowing through the microchannels was observedoptically and diffusion of the dye into the hydrogel was quantified. To complement the diffusion measurements from the microfluidic studies, nuclear magnetic resonance(NMR) characterization of the diffusion of dye in the PEG hydrogels was performed. The diffusion of small molecules in a hydrogel is relevant to applications such asdrug delivery and modeling transport for tissue-engineering applications. The diffusion of small molecules in a hydrogel is dependent on the extent of crosslinking within the gel, gel structure, and interactions between the diffusive species and the hydrogel network. These effects were studied in a model environment (semi-infinite slab) at the hydrogelfluid boundary in a microfluidic device. The microfluidic devices containing PEG microchannels were fabricated using photolithography. The unsteady diffusion of small molecules (dyes) within the microfluidic device was monitored and recorded using a digital microscope. The information was analyzed with techniques drawn from digital microscopy and image analysis to obtain concentration profiles with time. Using a diffusion model to fit this concentration vs. position data, a diffusion coefficient was obtained. This diffusion coefficient was compared to those from complementary NMR analysis. A pulsed field gradient (PFG) method was used to investigate and quantify small molecule diffusion in gradient (PFG) method was used to investigate and quantify small molecule diffusion in hydrogels. There is good agreement between the diffusion coefficients obtained from the microfluidic methods and those found from the NMR studies. The microfluidic approachused in this research enables the study of diffusion at length scales that approach those of vasculature, facilitating models for studying drug elution from hydrogels in blood-contacting applications.


Hydrogels, microfluidics, diffusion

Access Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Science in Chemical Engineering


Chemical Engineering

First Advisor

Erin Lynne Jablonski