Numerical modeling and experiments are performed investigating the properties of a dielectrophoresis-based deposition device, in order to establish the electrokinetic framework required to understand the effects of applied inhomogeneous electric fields while moving particles to desired locations. By capacitively coupling electrodes to a conductive substrate, the controlled large-scale parallel dielectrophoretic assembly of nanostructures in individually accessible devices at a high integration density is accomplished. Thermal gradients in the solution, which give rise to local permittivity and conductivity changes, and velocity fields are solved by coupling electric, thermal, and fluid-mechanical equations. The induced electrothermal flow ETF causes vortices above the electrode gap, attracting particles, such as single-walled carbon nanotubes SWNTs, before they are trapped by the dielectrophoretic force and deposit across the electrodes. Long-range carbon nanotube transport is governed by hydrodynamic effects, while local trapping is dominated by dielectrophoretic forces in low concentration SWNT dispersions. Results show that by decreasing the ac frequency ac electroosmosis on the metallic electrodes occurs due to the emergence of an electric double layer, disturbing the initial flow pattern of the system. By superimposing a dc potential offset, a generated tangential electroosmotic fluid flow in the dielectric electrode gap also disrupts the ETF. Capacitive coupling is most efficient in the high frequency regime where it is the dominating impedance contribution. Understanding the occurrence and interaction of these different effects, including a self-limiting integration mechanism for individual nanostructures, allows an increased deposition yield at overall lower electric field strengths through a prudent choice of electric field parameters. The findings provide important avenues toward gentler particle handling, without direct current throughput, a relevant aspect for limiting process effects during device fabrication, all while increasing dielectrophoretic deposition efficiency in nanostructured networks.
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