Soft Matter. 2022 Aug 3. doi: 10.1039/d2sm00935h. Online ahead of print.
The encapsulation and co-encapsulation of particles in microfluidic flows is essential in applications related to single-cell analysis and material synthesis. However, the whole encapsulation process is stochastic in nature, and its efficiency is limited by the so-called Poisson limit. We here demonstrate particle encapsulation in microfluidic devices having flow-focusing geometries with efficiency up to 2-fold larger than the stochastic limit imposed by the Poisson statistics. To this aim, we exploited the recently observed phenomenon of particle train formation in viscoelastic liquids, so that particles could approach the encapsulation area with a constant frequency that was subsequently synchronised to the constant frequency of droplet formation. We also developed a simplified expression based on the experimental results that can guide optimal design of the microfluidic encapsulation system. Finally, we report the first experimental evidence of viscoelastic co-encapsulation of particles coming from different streams.