Microfluidic Mass Production of Stabilized and Stealthy Liquid Metal Nanoparticles
Functional nanoparticles comprised of liquid metals, such as eutectic gallium indium (EGaIn) and Galinstan, present exciting opportunities in the fields of flexible electronics, sensors, catalysts, and drug delivery systems. Methods used currently for producing liquid metal nanoparticles have significant disadvantages as they rely on both bulky and expensive high-power sonication probe systems, and also generally require the use of small molecules bearing thiol groups to stabilize the nanoparticles. Herein, an innovative microfluidics-enabled platform is described as an inexpensive, easily accessible method for the on-chip mass production of EGaIn nanoparticles with tunable size distributions in an aqueous medium. A novel nanoparticle-stabilization approach is reported using brushed polyethylene glycol chains with trithiocarbonate end-groups negating the requirements for thiol additives while imparting a "stealth" surface layer. Furthermore, a surface modification of the nanoparticles is demonstrated using galvanic replacement and conjugation with antibodies. It is envisioned that the demonstrated microfluidic technique can be used as an economic and versatile platform for the rapid production of liquid metal-based nanoparticles for a range of biomedical applications.