Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

That's the way the droplets adhere

20.02.2013
Understanding exactly how droplets and bubbles stick to surfaces — everything from dew on blades of grass to the water droplets that form on condensing coils after steam drives a turbine in a power plant — is a "100-year-old problem" that has eluded experimental answers, says MIT's Kripa Varanasi. Furthermore, it's a question with implications for everything from how to improve power-plant efficiency to how to reduce fogging on windshields.

Now this longstanding problem has finally been licked, Varanasi says, in research he conducted with graduate student Adam Paxson that is described this week in the journal Nature Communications. They achieved the feat using a modified version of a scanning electron microscope in which the dynamic behavior of droplets on surfaces at any angle could be observed in action at high resolution.

Previous attempts to study droplet adhesion have been static — using drops of a polymer that are allowed to harden and then sliced in cross-section — or have been done only at very low resolution. The ability to observe the process in close-up detail and in full motion is an unprecedented feat, says Varanasi, the Doherty Associate Professor of Ocean Utilization.

Normally, scanning electron microscopes observe materials on a fixed horizontal stage and under a strong vacuum, which causes water to evaporate instantly. The MIT team was able to adapt the equipment to operate with a weaker vacuum, and with the ability to change the surface angle and to push and pull droplets across the surface with a tiny wire.

Paxson and Varanasi found that a key factor in determining whether a droplet sticks to the surface is the angle of the droplet's leading and trailing edges relative to the surface. Nobody had been able to observe these angles dynamically at microscale before, while theorists had not predicted their importance.

The MIT researchers also found that on rough surfaces, surface texture is crucial to adhesion. Surprisingly, they found that too much roughness can make droplets stick more — contrary to the widely held belief that greater roughness always improves a surface's ability to shed water. It all depends on the details of the texture, they found.

For many applications, it's important that droplets fall away from a condensing surface as quickly as possible; for others, it's best to "pin" them in place as long as possible so they can grow and spread. The new analysis, which led to a mathematical system for precisely predicting droplet behavior, can be used to optimize a surface in either way. (Bubbles, such as those on the bottom of a pan of boiling water, behave in essentially the same way).

"People have only been able to make sketches" of how droplet adhesion works, Paxson says. With the new high-resolution imagery, it is now clear that as a droplet peels away from a rough surface, the round droplet forms a series of tiny "necks" adhering to each of the high points on the surface; these necks (which the researchers call "capillary bridges") then gradually stretch, thin and break. The more high spots on the surface, the more of these tiny necks form. "That's where all the adhesion occurs," Paxson says.

The MIT authors say the phenomenon is "self-similar," like fractal structure: Each neck or capillary bridge can consist of several capillary bridges at finer length scales; it is the cumulative effect that dictates the overall adhesion. This self-similarity is exploited by some biological structures for lowering adhesion.

There had been two leading theories on how to calculate the adhesion of droplets: One held that the areas of contact and energy levels of the molecules were key; the other, that the length of the edge of a drop on a surface was critical. The evidence produced by this research strongly supports the second theory. "I think we have now closed a decades-old debate on this one," Varanasi says.

In general, Paxson says, "complicated shapes tend to be more sticky," because of their greater edge-length.

Droplets and bubbles are ubiquitous in many engineering applications. This work could be applied to engineering industrial surfaces with controlled adhesion in applications ranging from large desalination and power plants to consumer products such as fabrics, packaging and medical devices. While some applications, such as condensers, strive to shed droplets quickly from a surface, others — such as ink droplets sprayed onto paper in an inkjet printer — require the reverse. The new methodology might help in improving both functions, the researchers say.

Paxson and Varanasi's formulas can also explain variability among natural textured surfaces — such as lotus leaves, which shed water efficiently, and rose petals, which do not. Finally, the new research could advance our understanding of certain biological processes — such as how water spiders, which make an air bubble to house themselves under the surface of a body of water, control the surface tension to penetrate the bubble.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the DuPont-MIT Alliance.

Written by David Chandler, MIT News Office

Sarah McDonnell | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk
20.01.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Polymerforschung IAP

nachricht Treated carbon pulls radioactive elements from water
20.01.2017 | Rice University

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>