Journal Article

K. Mathwig, F. Müller and U. Gösele
Particle transport in asymmetrically modulated pores
New Journal of Physics 13 (2011) 033038.
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Brownian motion plays an important role in the separation of small particles and molecules, but generally leads to undirected motion or intermixing by diffusion. Matthias and Müller (2003 Nature 424 53–7) reported on the experimental realization of a drift ratchet, a microfluidic particle transport mechanism that utilizes random fluctuations instead, i.e. a Brownian motor. Here, we offer a new interpretation of this previously published work on the drift ratchet. New experiments, which allow us to distinguish between particles of different sizes, as well as a re-examination of the original work, lead to the conclusion that the measured particle transport does not result from a ratchet effect. We demonstrate that the transport is caused by convection instead. While our result challenges one specific type of experiment, we do not assess the feasibility of a drift ratchet in principle. Instead, we identify the experimental conditions that need to be fulfilled for the successful separation of particles.