Classification of dielectric microparticles by microwave impedance cytometry
AbstractCoulter counters and impedance cytometry are commonly used for counting microscopic objects, such as cells and microparticles flowing in a liquid, as well as to obtain their size distribution. However, the ability of these techniques to provide simultaneous material information — via dielectric permittivity measurements — has been limited so far. The challenge stems from the fact that the signals generated by microparticles of identical size, but different material composition, are close to each other. The similarity in impedance signals arises because the material-dependent factor is determined mainly by the volume of aqueous solution displaced by the microparticles, rather than the microparticles themselves. To differentiate between materially distinct particles with similar geometry and size, another measurement mode needs to be implemented. Here, we describe a new microfluidics-based sensor that provides material classification between microparticles with similar sizes by integrating impedance cytometry with microwave resonator sensors on the same chip. While low-frequency impedance cytometry provides the geometric size of particles, the microwave sensor operating at three orders-of-magnitude higher frequency provides their electrical size. By combining these two measurements, the Clausius-Mossotti factors of microparticles can be calculated to serve as a differentiation parameter. In addition to distinguishing dielectric materials from cells and metals, we classified two different dielectric microparticles with similar sizes and electrical characteristics: polystyrene and soda lime glass, with 94% identification accuracy. The proposed technique can serve as an automated monitoring system for quality control of manufactured microparticles and facilitate environmental microplastic screening.