Date of Thesis



Hydrogels are composed of cross-linked networks of hydrophilic polymers that are biocompatible due to their high water content. Mass transfer through hydrogels has been suggested as an effective method of drug delivery, specifically in degradable polymers to minimize lasting effects within the body. Diffusion of small molecules in poly (ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEG-DA) and dextran methacrylate (dex-MA) hydrogels was characterized in a microfluidic device and by complementary techniques. Microfluidic devices were prepared by crosslinking a formulation of hydrogel and photo-initiator, with and without visible dye, using photolithography to define a central microchannel. Channel sizes within the devices were approximately 600 ¿m to simulate vessels within the body. The microfluidic technique allows for both image and effluent analyses. To visualize the diffusive behavior within the dextran hydrogel, methylene blue and sulforhodamine 101 dyes were used in both elution and uptake experiments. Three analysis techniques for measuring diffusion coefficients were used to quantify the diffusion of solute in the hydrogel, including optical microscopy, characterization of device effluent, and NMR analyses. The optical microscopy technique analyzes images of the dye diffusion captured by a stereomicroscope to generate dye concentration v. position profiles. The data was fit to a diffusion model to determine diffusion coefficients and the dye release profile. In a typical elution experiment, aqueous solution is pumped through the microchannel and dye diffuses out of the hydrogel and into the aqueous phase. During elution, images are taken at regular time intervals and the effluent was collected. Analysis of the device effluent was performed using ultraviolet-visible (UV/Vis) spectroscopy to determine the effluent dye concentration and thus a short-time diffusion coefficient. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) was used to determine a free diffusion coefficient of molecules in hydrogel without the effect of a concentration gradient. Diffusion coefficients for methylene blue and sulforhodamine 101 dyes in dex-MA hydrogel calculated using the three analysis methods all agree well. It was determined that utilizing a combination of the three techniques offers greater insight into molecular diffusion in hydrogels than employing each technique individually. The use of the same microfluidic devices used to measure diffusion is explored in the use of studying the degradation of dex-MA hydrogels. By combining what is known about the degradation rate in regards to the effect of pH and crosslinking and the ability to use a dye solution in contrast to establish the hydrogel boundaries could be a novel approach to studying hydrogel degradation.


Hydrogels, Diffusion, Degradation, Microfluidic

Access Type

Masters Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Degree Type

Master of Science in Chemical Engineering


Chemical Engineering

First Advisor

Erin Jablonski

Second Advisor

James Maneval

Third Advisor

Brandon Vogel