A new publication “Sculpturing wafer-scale nanofluidic devices for DNA single molecule analysis” of Irene’s ERC Starting Grant Group has been published today in RSC Nanoscale.


We present micro- and nanofluidic devices with 3D structures and nanochannels with multiple depths for the analysis of single molecules of DNA. Interfacing the nanochannels with graded and 3D inlets allows the improvement of the flow and controls not only the translocation speed of the DNA but also its conformation inside the nanochannels. The complex, multilevel, multiscale fluidic circuits are patterned in a simple, two-minute imprinting step. The stamp, the key of the technology, is directly milled by focused ion beam, which allows patterning nanochannels with different cross sections and depths, together with 3D transient inlets, all at once. Having such a variety of structures integrated in the same sample allows studying, optimizing and directly comparing their effect on the DNA flow. Here, DNA translocation is studied in long (160 µm) and short (5–40 µm) nanochannels. We study the homogeneity of the stretched molecules in long, meander nanochannels made with this technology. In addition, we analyze the effect of the different types of inlet structures interfacing short nanochannels. We observe pre-stretching and an optimal flow, and no hairpin formation, when the inlets have gradually decreasing widths and depths. In contrast, when the nanochannels are faced with an abrupt transition, we observe clogging and hairpin formation. In addition, 3D inlets strongly decrease the DNA molecules’ speed before they enter the nanochannels, and help capturing more DNA molecules. The robustness and versatility of this technology and DNA testing results evidence the potential of imprinted devices in biomedical applications as low cost, disposable lab-on-a-chip devices.

A joined publication entitled “3D Micromachined Polyimide Mixing Devices for in Situ X-ray Imaging of Solution-Based Block Copolymer Phase Transitions” with the group of Prof. Martin Trebbin has been publishedin ACS Langmuir

Abstract: Advances in modern interface- and material sciences often rely on the understanding of a system’s structure–function relationship. Designing reproducible experiments that yield in situ time-resolved structural information at fast time scales is therefore of great interest, e.g., for better understanding the early stages of self-assembly or other phase transitions. However, it can be challenging to accurately control experimental conditions, especially when samples are only available in small amounts, prone to agglomeration, or if X-ray compatibility is required. We address these challenges by presenting a microfluidic chip for triggering dynamics via rapid diffusive mixing for in situ time-resolved X-ray investigations. This polyimide/Kapton-only-based device can be used to study the structural dynamics and phase transitions of a wide range of colloidal and soft matter samples down to millisecond time scales. The novel multiangle laser ablation three-dimensional (3D) microstructuring approach combines, for the first time, the highly desirable characteristics of Kapton (high X-ray stability with low background, organic solvent compatibility) with a 3D flow-focusing geometry that minimizes mixing dispersion and wall agglomeration. As a model system, to demonstrate the performance of these 3D Kapton microfluidic devices, we selected the non-solvent-induced self-assembly of biocompatible and amphiphilic diblock copolymers. We then followed their structural evolution in situ at millisecond time scales using on-the-chip time-resolved small-angle X-ray scattering under continuous-flow conditions. Combined with complementary results from 3D finite-element method computational fluid dynamics simulations, we find that the nonsolvent mixing is mostly complete within a few tens of milliseconds, which triggers initial spherical micelle formation, while structural transitions into micelle lattices and their deswelling only occur on the hundreds of milliseconds to second time scale. These results could have an important implication for the design and formulation of amphiphilic polymer nanoparticles for industrial applications and their use as drug-delivery systems in medicine.

Chithra has been awarded the prestigious Humboldt research fellowship for post doctoral research and has rcently joined our group.

A joined publication within the SFFB986  “Transparency induced in opals via nanometer thick conformal coating” led by Prof. Eich (TUHH) has been published in Scientific Reports.

Abstract: Self-assembled periodic structures out of monodisperse spherical particles, so-called opals, are a versatile approach to obtain 3D photonic crystals. We show that a thin conformal coating of only several nanometers can completely alter the reflection properties of such an opal. Specifically, a coating with a refractive index larger than that of the spherical particles can eliminate the first photonic band gap of opals. To explain this non-intuitive effect, where a nm-scaled coating results in a drastic change of optical properties at wavelengths a hundred times bigger, we split the permittivity distribution of the opal into a lattice function convoluted with that of core-shell particles as a motif. In reciprocal space, the Bragg peaks that define the first Brillouin zone can be eliminated if the motif function, which is multiplied, assumes zero at the Bragg peak positions. Therefore, we designed a non-monotonic refractive index distribution from the center of the particle through the shell into the background and adjusted the coating thickness. The theory is supported by simulations and experiments that a nanometer thin TiO2 coating via atomic layer deposition (ALD) on synthetic opals made from polystyrene particles induces nearly full transparency at a wavelength range where the uncoated opal strongly reflects. This effect paves the way for sensing applications such as monitoring the thicknesses growth in ALD in-situ and in real time as well as measuring a refractive index change without spectral interrogation.

A joined publication  “Effects of processing parameters on 3D structural ordering and optical properties of inverse opal photonic crystals produced by atomic layer deposition” led by Dr. Janßen and his reseach team within the framework of the SFB986  is accepted and now in an early-view-stage at International Journal of Ceramic Engineering & Science.

Abstract: Vertical convective self‐assembly has been extensively used for the preparation of direct photonic crystals, which can be later infiltrated with a more stable material, such as oxide ceramics, by atomic layer deposition. However, the relationship between the self‐assembly parameters of the direct photonic crystals and the optical properties of the inverse opal photonic crystals remains elusive. In this work, the effect of different experimental parameters on the 3D structure and defects density of polystyrene direct photonic crystals produced by vertical convective self‐assembly was assessed. Self‐assembly was investigated using deionized water as media with polymer particles’ concentrations up to 2 mg/mL, temperatures of 40, 50 and 80°C and relative humidity of 45, 70 and 90%. The 3D structure of the resultant direct photonic materials was characterized by the combination of scanning electron microscopy and image analysis, and their optical properties was assessed by reflectance measurements. These results were correlated with the performance of oxide‐based inverse opal photonic crystals produced by the controlled infiltration of the former direct photonic crystals by atomic layer deposition (ALD). It was found that the thickness increased with the concentration of polystyrene particles, while the photonic structure ordering is dependent on the synergy between humidity and temperature. Results also showed higher defects population with increasing evaporation temperature and decreasing relative humidity.

Our new publication “Microwave-induced capacitance resonances and anomalous magnetoresistance in double quantum wells” has been published today in Journal of Applied Physics.


Magnetotransport measurements on electron bilayer systems under low frequency continuous microwave irradiation reveal an anomalous magnetoresistance behavior. At low total imbalanced carrier densities, pronounced features in the longitudinal and Hall resistance emerge that show a surprisingly strong sensitivity to frequency, microwave power, and density. We suggest its origin to be related to resonantly induced capacitance oscillations of the two-layer system.

Our paper “Microscaffolds by Direct Laser Writing for Neurite Guidance Leading to Tailor-Made Neuronal Networks” in Advanced Biosystems is now published including a cover image. 

Abstract: While modern day integrated electronic circuits are essentially designed in a 2D fashion, the brain can be regarded as a 3D circuit. The thus enhanced connectivity enables much more complex signal processing as compared to conventional 2D circuits. Recent technological advances in the development of nano/microscale 3D structuring have led to the development of artificial neuron culturing platforms, which surpass the possibilities of classical 2D cultures. In this work, in vitro culturing of neuronal networks is demonstrated by determining predefined pathways through topological and chemical neurite guiding. Tailor‐made culturing substrates of microtowers and freestanding microtubes are fabricated using direct laser writing by two‐photon polymerization. The first scaffold design that allows for site‐specific cell attachment and directed outgrowth of single neurites along defined paths that can be arranged freely in all dimensions, to build neuronal networks with low cell density, is presented. The neurons cultured in the scaffolds show characteristic electrophysiological properties of vital cells after 10 d in vitro. The introduced scaffold design offers a promising concept for future complex neuronal network studies on defined neuronal circuits with tailor‐made design specific neurite connections beyond 2D.

A joined publication  “Time-Resolved Analysis of the Structural Dynamics of Assembling Gold Nanoparticles” led by Prof. Martin Trebbin’s group  is accepted and now in an early-view-stage at ACS Nano.

Abstract: The hydrophobic collapse is a structural transition of grafted polymer chains in a poor solvent. Although such a transition seems an intrinsic event during clustering of polymer-stabilized nanoparticles in the liquid phase, it has not been resolved in real time. In this work, we implemented a microfluidic 3D-flow-focusing mixing reactor equipped with real-time analytics, small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), and UV–vis–NIR spectroscopy to study the early stage of cluster formation for polystyrene-stabilized gold nanoparticles. The polymer shell dynamics obtained by in situ SAXS analysis and numerical simulation of the solvent composition allowed us to map the interaction energy between the particles at early state of solvent mixing, 30 ms behind the crossing point. We found that the rate of hydrophobic collapse depends on water concentration, ranging between 100 and 500 nm/s. Importantly, we confirmed that the polymer shell collapses prior to the commencement of clustering.