Topology-Sensitive Microfluidic Filter for Polymers of Varying Stiffness

The separation of polymers based on their size, rigidity, and topology is an essential but also highly challenging task for nanoscience and engineering. Using hybrid molecular dynamics simulations that correctly take into account hydrodynamics, we have designed microfluidic channels for separating linear from ring polymers in dilute solutions. We establish that the transport velocity of the polymers is independent of their topology and rigidity when the channel walls are smooth and repulsive. However, when the walls are decorated with attractive spots arranged on lines parallel to the flow, ring polymers exhibit an order of magnitude higher transport velocity compared to linear chains. The spots induce a homeotropic-like reorientation of ring polymers close to walls leading to a tank treading motion along them, whereas linear chains are immobilized upon adsorption. This mechanism becomes more enhanced with increasing polymer rigidity. The presented technique holds thus promise for reliably separating nanoparticles based on their topology.