Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Structured spheres generated by an in-fibre fluid instability

An Erratum to this article was published on 15 August 2012


From drug delivery1,2 to chemical and biological catalysis3 and cosmetics4, the need for efficient fabrication pathways for particles over a wide range of sizes, from a variety of materials, and in many different structures has been well established5. Here we harness the inherent scalability of fibre production6 and an in-fibre Plateau–Rayleigh capillary instability7 for the fabrication of uniformly sized, structured spherical particles spanning an exceptionally wide range of sizes: from 2 mm down to 20 nm. Thermal processing of a multimaterial fibre8 controllably induces the instability9, resulting in a well-ordered, oriented emulsion10 in three dimensions. The fibre core and cladding correspond to the dispersed and continuous phases, respectively, and are both frozen in situ on cooling, after which the particles are released when needed. By arranging a variety of structures and materials in a macroscopic scaled-up model of the fibre, we produce composite, structured, spherical particles, such as core–shell particles, two-compartment ‘Janus’ particles11, and multi-sectioned ‘beach ball’ particles. Moreover, producing fibres with a high density of cores allows for an unprecedented level of parallelization. In principle, 108 50-nm cores may be embedded in metres-long, 1-mm-diameter fibre, which can be induced to break up simultaneously throughout its length, into uniformly sized, structured spheres.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Fluid capillary instabilities in multimaterial fibres as a route to size-tunable particle fabrication.
Figure 2: Scalable fabrication of micro- and nano-scale spherical particles.
Figure 3: Polymer-core/glass-shell spherical particle fabrication.
Figure 4: Broken-symmetry Janus particle and ‘beach ball’ particle fabrication.


  1. 1

    Timko, B. P. et al. Advances in drug delivery. Annu. Rev. Mater. Res. 41, 1–20 (2011)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Wang, J., Byrne, J. D., Napier, M. E. & DeSimone, J. M. More effective nanomedicines through particle design. Small 7, 1919–1931 (2011)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Bell, A. T. The impact of nanoscience on heterogeneous catalysis. Science 299, 1688–1691 (2003)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Souto, E. B. & Müller, R. H. Cosmetic features and applications of lipid nanoparticles. Int. J. Cosmet. Sci. 30, 157–165 (2008)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Rotello, V. Nanoparticles: Building Blocks for Nanotechnology (Springer, 2003)

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Li, T., ed. Optical Fiber Communications Vol. 1, Fiber Fabrication (Academic, 1985)

  7. 7

    Eggers, J. & Villermaux, E. Physics of liquid jets. Rep. Prog. Phys. 71, 036601 (2008)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Abouraddy, A. F. et al. Towards multimaterial multifunctional fibres that see, hear, sense and communicate. Nature Mater. 6, 336–347 (2007)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Shabahang, S., Kaufman, J. J., Deng, D. S. & Abouraddy, A. F. Observation of the Plateau-Rayleigh capillary instability in multi-material optical fibers. Appl. Phys. Lett. 99, 161909 (2011)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Sjöblom, J. Encyclopedic Handbook of Emulsion Technology (Marcel Dekker, 2001)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Walther, A. & Müller, A. H. E. Janus particles. Soft Matter 4, 663–668 (2008)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Cao, G. Nanostructures and Nanomaterials: Synthesis, Properties and Applications (Imperial College Press, 2004)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Vollath, D. Nanomaterials: An Introduction to Synthesis, Properties and Application (Wiley-VCH, 2008)

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Merkel, T. J. et al. Scalable shape-specific, top-down fabrication methods for the synthesis of engineered colloidal microparticles. Langmuir 26, 13086–13096 (2010)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Utada, A. S. et al. Monodisperse double emulsions generated from a microcapillary device. Science 308, 537–541 (2005)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Dendukuri, D. & Doyle, P. S. The synthesis and assembly of polymeric microparticles using microfluidics. Adv. Mater. 21, 4071–4086 (2009)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Dendukuri, D., Pregibon, D. C., Collins, J., Hatton, T. A. & Doyle, P. S. Continuous-flow lithography for high-throughput microparticle synthesis. Nature Mater. 5, 365–369 (2006)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Hernandez, C. J. & Mason, T. G. Colloidal alphabet soup: Monodisperse dispersions of shape-designed LithoParticles. J. Phys. Chem. C 111, 4477–4480 (2007)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Rolland, J. P. et al. Direct fabrication and harvesting of monodisperse, shape specific nano-biomaterials. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 127, 10096–10100 (2005)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Kaufman, J. J. et al. Thermal drawing of high-density macroscopic arrays of well-ordered sub-5-nm-diameter nanowires. Nano Lett. 11, 4768–4773 (2011)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Nie, Z. H. et al. Emulsification in a microfluidic flow-focusing device: Effect of the viscosities of the liquids. Microfluidics and Nanofluidics 5, 585–594 (2008)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Tomotika, S. On the instability of a cylindrical thread of a viscous liquid surrounded by another viscous fluid. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. A 150, 322–337 (1935)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Deng, D. S. et al. In-fiber nanoscale semiconductor filament arrays. Nano Lett. 8, 4265–4269 (2008)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Nisisako, T. & Torii, T. Microfluidic large-scale integration on a chip for mass production of monodisperse droplets and particles. Lab Chip 8, 287–293 (2008)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Liang, X., Deng, D. S., Nave, J.-C. & Johnson, S. G. Linear stability analysis of capillary instabilities for concentric cylindrical shells. J. Fluid Mech. 683, 235–262 (2011)

    CAS  ADS  MathSciNet  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Deng, D. S., Nave, J.-C., Liang, X., Johnson, S. G. & Fink, Y. Exploration of in-fiber nanostructures from capillary instability. Opt. Express 19, 16273–16290 (2011)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Smith, K. A., Solis, F. J. & Chopp, D. L. A projection method for motion of triple junctions by levels sets. Interfaces Free Bound. 4, 263–276 (2002)

    MathSciNet  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Dussan, V. E. B. On the spreading of liquids on solid surfaces: static and dynamic contact lines. Annu. Rev. Fluid Mech. 11, 371–400 (1979)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    de Gennes, P. G. Wetting: statics and dynamics. Rev. Mod. Phys. 57, 827–863 (1985)

    CAS  ADS  MathSciNet  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Israelachvili, J. N. Intermolecular and Surface Forces (Academic, 1992)

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Ballato, J. et al. Advancements in semiconductor core optical fiber. Opt. Fiber Technol. 16, 399–408 (2010)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    Orf, N. D. et al. Fiber draw synthesis. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 4743–4747 (2011)

    CAS  ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


Work at UCF was supported by the US National Science Foundation (award number ECCS-1002295), a Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award from the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU), in part by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) under contract FA-9550-12-1-0148, and by CREOL, The College of Optics & Photonics. Work at MIT was supported in part by the Materials Research Science and Engineering Program of the US NSF under award number DMR-0819762, and also in part by the US Army Research Office through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies under contract number W911NF-07-D-0004. We thank Sasha Stolyarov, J. Manuel Perez, Sudipta Seal and Kirk Scammon for assistance. We especially thank M. J. Soileau, B. E. A. Saleh, D. N. Christodoulides and M. Z. Bazant for encouragement and support.

Author information




J.J.K., Y.F. and A.F.A. developed and directed the project. S.S. first observed the PRI phenomenon, developed the fibre tapering process and the particle extraction approach, and demonstrated the scale invariance of the PRI and particle extraction strategies. G.T. prepared and characterized all the glasses, carried out the preform extrusions, and produced the ‘beach ball’ fibre. J.J.K. produced the other preforms and fibres, performed PRI breakup and particle extraction experiments, and carried out the SEM, EDX, FIB and optical imaging and characterization. E.-H.B. aided in choice and characterization of materials and in preparation of the polymers. D.S.D., X.L. and S.G.J. carried out the theoretical calculations and performed the simulations. J.J.K., D.S.D., Y.F. and A.F.A. wrote the paper. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the results.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ayman F. Abouraddy.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Figures 1-10, legend for Supplementary Movie 1 and additional references. (PDF 1065 kb)

Supplementary Movie 1

This file contains a movie showing computed core-shell particle breakup dynamics (see Supplementary Information file for full legend). (MP4 1760 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kaufman, J., Tao, G., Shabahang, S. et al. Structured spheres generated by an in-fibre fluid instability. Nature 487, 463–467 (2012).

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing