Plasma Treatment & Bonding for Polymer Microfluidics

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Polymer Microfluidics

Biomedical research using polymer microfluidics is actively conducted by researchers. The small devices could enable quick and simple diagnostics at patients’ home without visiting doctors at hospitals in the near future. The target of the diagnostics using microfluidics exists not only in developed countries where reduction of medical cost is highly required due to ageing society. It can be a promising solution to deliver medical service at low cost in developing countries where the number of hospitals and doctors is limited due to insufficient government budget and unstable supply-chain of expensive medical devices.

polymer microfluidics

However, there are some challenges in polymer microfluidics fabrication process and actual use. Samco offers plasma treatment solutions to solve the process challenges for low-cost microfluidics fabrication. In this page, we will describe how we tackle the challenges using our plasma treatment technologies.


Polymer Microfluidics Fabrication Process

Conventional polymer microfluidics fabrication procedure is as follows.

micro-channel molding

1. Micro-channel Molding

VUV irradiation substrate bonding

2. VUV Irradiation (Surface Activation)
Substrate Bonding

While there are several materials used in polymer microfluidics fabrication such as PDMS, PMMA and COC, Cyclic Olefin Polymer (COP) is one of the popular polymer materials due to several reasons.
1. low cost (easily processed using molding)
2. low fluorescence intensity (required for optical molecule detection methods)


  • Process challenges in microfluidics fabrication

Process Challenges in COP Microfluidics Fabrication

Even though COP microfluidics are promising for next-generation diagnostics, there are several challenges in fabrication process.

Auto-fluorescence degradation of COP

COP is originally hydrophobic as well as general polymer materials. Therefore, it requires surface modification to obtain hydrophilic surfaces. However, VUV irradiation deteriorates low auto-fluorescence of COP. The aggregated auto-fluorescence is noise for optical detection of molecules by fluorescence techniques.

Micro-channel corruption by substrate pressing

Oxygen plasma is another approach for surface activation and substrate bonding. A drawback of oxygen plasma treatment is low surface adhesion between substrates, and pressing is required to assure the substrate adhesion. However, the excessive pressing sometimes destroys micro-channel pattern with fine pitch which is a key in device design.

A new COP surface activation and bonding technology is needed with the process requirements below.

1. maintain low fluorescence intensity of COP

2. low-cost, safe and expandable for device production


H2O-based Plasma Treatment

 Advanced Plasma Treatment Technology for Polymer Surface Activation & Bonding

Using H2O for Plasma Treatment

Aqua Plasma is plasma treatment process which uses H2O (water vapor) as process gas.
Water vapor generates reactive oxygen species and hydroxyl radicals.

H2O + e- → H + OH + e-
H2O + e- → O + H2 + e-

There are several process features of Aqua Plasma.

1. Inexpensive and safe

Water as process gas source is inexpensive and safe. Easy to install compared to H2 which is used for gentile plasma cleaning.

2. Exclusive for Samco Plasma Cleaner AQ-2000

Aqua Plasma® is specially developed by Samco to provide plasma treatment solutions for microfluidics research customers.

COP/COP Direct Bonding

COP substrates were processed in Aqua Plasma. Immidiately after the process, direct COP/COP bonding was conducted. The table shows relationship between RF power and COP/COP bonding strength in bending test. Room-temperature direct substrate bonding between COP/COP was achieved at RF power of 10 W or more.

cop/cop bonding strength afete Aqua Plasma Treatment

 RF Power vs. COP/COP Bonding Strength

COP/Glass Direct Bonding

COP/Glass room-temperature bonding was achieved after 20-second Aqua Plasma treatment. Note that the bonding was performed without mechanical pressing. This means the process does not cause micro-channel pattern collapse which can be seen on O2 plasma treatment and subsequent mechanical pressing/heating. Maximum bonding strength was 1.612 N/cm2 and glass plate was destroyed.

COP/Glass Bonding after Aqua Plasma Treatment

 COP/Glass Plates after Aqua Plasma® Treatment and Bonding

COP Surface Activation (Aqua Plasma vs. O2 Plasma vs. VUV)

Superhydrophilic (lower than 5°) surface was achieved after Aqua Plasma treatment. The contact angle was lower than VUV treatment.

Contact angle after Aqua plasma or O2 plasma treatment

 COP Contact Angle after Aqua Plasma® or O2 Plasma Treatment

Contact angle after VUV treatment

 COP Contact Angle after VUV Treatment

COP Auto-fluorescence Intensity (VUV vs. O2 Plasma vs. Aqua Plasma)

The table on the right shows COP auto-fluorescence intensity before and after VUV, O2 plasma, and Aqua Plasma. Aqua Plasma treatment did not change COP’s fluorescence intensity unlike VUV. Note that Aqua Plasma enabled bonding without pressing/heating unlike VUV and O2 plasma. This means in Aqua Plasma treatment, there is no risk of breaking fine micro-channel pattern.

COP auto-fluorescence intensity after aqua plasma

 COP Auto-fluorescence intensity after VUV, O2 and Aqua Plasma® Treatment


The Benefits You Receive

Advantage of SAMCO process solutionsClear data w/o auto-fluorescence noise

No deterioration of auto-fluorescence intensity compared to VUV

Advantage of SAMCO process solutionsLow-cost & safe

Water vapor as plasma gas source is low cost and safe.

Advantage of SAMCO process solutionsExpandable to production

Batch substrate processing on multiple shelves allows high throughput.

System Lineup

H2O-based Plasma Cleaner

· Batch processing of polymer substrates
· Specially designed for Aqua Plasma

Contact SAMCO for more product information
Any questions? Contact us for more detail.
Contact SAMCO for more product information
Any questions? Contact us for more detail.
Contact SAMCO for more product information
Any questions? Contact us for more detail.
Contact SAMCO for more product information
Contact us for more detail.