Manipulation of aqueous droplets in microchannels has great significance in various emerging applications such as biological and chemical assays. Magnetic-field based droplet manipulation that offers unique advantages is consequently gaining attention. However, the physics of magnetic field-driven cross-stream migration and the coalescence of aqueous droplets with an aqueous stream are not well understood. Here, we unravel the mechanism of cross-stream migration and the coalescence of aqueous droplets flowing in an oil based ferrofluid with a coflowing aqueous stream in the presence of a magnetic field. Our study reveals that the migration phenomenon is governed by the advection (τa) and magnetophoretic (τm) time scales. Experimental data show that the dimensionless equilibrium cross-stream migration distance δ* and the length Lδ* required to attain equilibrium cross-stream migration depend on the Strouhal number, St = (τa/τm), as δ* = 1.1 St0.33 and Lδ*=5.3St0.50, respectively. We find that the droplet-stream coalescence phenomenon is underpinned by the ratio of the sum of magnetophoretic (τm) and film-drainage time scales (τfd) and the advection time scale (τa), expressed in terms of the Strouhal number (St) and the film-drainage Reynolds number (Refd) as ξ = (τm + τfd)/τa = (St−1 + Refd). Irrespective of the flow rates of the coflowing streams, droplet size, and magnetic field, our study shows that droplet-stream coalescence is achieved for ξ ≤ 50 and ferrofluid stream width ratio w* < 0.7. We utilize the phenomenon and demonstrated the extraction of microparticles and HeLa cells from aqueous droplets to an aqueous stream.

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