Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


A drop of water as a model for the interplay of adhesion and stiction


Physicists at the University of Zurich have developed a system that enables them to switch back and forth the adhesion and stiction (static friction) of a water drop on a solid surface. The change in voltage is expressed macroscopically in the contact angle between the drop and the surface. This effect can be attributed to the change in the surface properties on the nanometer scale.

How can a gecko move across a ceiling upside down? Two mechanisms are responsible: Adhesion via billions of extremely fine hairs on its feet, which enable it to stick to ceilings and walls. And as soon as the gecko moves, it relies on stiction. However, any change of adhesion and stiction at macroscopic level is expressed on the nanometer scale through the change in the forces exerted between atoms and molecules.

The boron nitride nanomesh superhoneycomb: nitrogen (green), boron (orange), rhodium (grey); distance between honeycombs 3.2 nm.

Marcella Iannuzzi, UZH & Ari Seitsonen, ENS Paris

Electrochemistry in a drop: Superposition of seven dynamic contact angle measurements of a drop of water on a surface; diameter of vertical tube capillary 0.85 mm.


How a drop of water touches a honeycomb structure

An international team of researchers headed by Thomas Greber from the University of Zurich’s Physik-Institut succeeded in changing the manner in which a drop of liquid adheres to a surface by altering the electric voltage applied to a water drop. The surface upon which the drop lies consists of a material known as nanomesh, a single boron nitride layer on metallic rhodium. The structure is shaped like honeycomb with a comb depth of 0.1 nanometers and comb-comb distance of 3.2 nanometers.

Macroscopically, the change in electrical voltage is expressed in the change of the contact angle between the drop and the nanomesh surface. The contact or wetting angle refers to the angle that a drop of liquid assumes with respect to the surface of a solid. This angle can be measured with the aid of backlit photographs.

Change in the surface structure alters the contact angle of the drop

On the nanometer scale, the change in voltage causes the following: The nitrogen bonds with the rhodium are replaced by hydrogen-rhodium bonds, which flattens the nanomesh structure. How strongly the boron nitride’s nitrogen binds to the surface of the rhodium depends on its distance from and direction to the next rhodium atom.

And this determines the honeycomb structure and depth of the boron nitride layer. If the voltage changes, hydrogen accumulates between the boron nitride and the rhodium layer, which causes the honeycomb boron nitride layer to become flat. Tunneling microscopy can be used to detect this nanoscopic effect – the change in the surface properties of the nanomesh – in the liquid.

“To understand and control the interplay between the macro and the nano-world is the real challenge in nanoscience,” stresses Greber. After all, six orders of magnitude need to be bridged – from millimeters in length (10-3 m) to nanometers (10-9 m); that’s a factor of one million. “Our model system of the electrically switchable nanomesh and a drop’s observable contact angle enables us to access the fundamental phenomenon of the friction of liquids on surfaces more precisely. This should help us solve problems that crop up during lubrication more effectively, for instance.” The research project actually appears on the cover of the latest issue of the renowned journal Nature.

On the one hand, the new system is interesting for biology. Applying this effect should make it possible to control the adhesion and movement of cells. Aspects such as cell migration or the formation of complex, multicellular structures with new scientific approaches might be researched as a result. On the other hand, technological applications such as capillary pumps, where the capillary height can be controlled via electrical voltage, or micro-capillaries, where the flow resistance can be controlled, are also conceivable.

Stijn F. L. Mertens, Adrian Hemmi, Stefan Muff, Oliver Gröning, Steven De Feyter, Jürg Osterwalder, Thomas Greber. Switching stiction and adhesion of a liquid on a solid. Nature. June 30, 2016. DOI: 10.1038/nature18275

About the study
The research results were achieved within the scope of the Sinergia Program of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). The SNSF uses this instrument to promote the collaboration between several research groups, which conduct research across disciplines with the prospect of ground-breaking results. Besides the University of Zurich, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Vienna University of Technology and Empa were also involved.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Greber
University of Zurich
Phone: +41 44 635 57 44

Weitere Informationen:

Kurt Bodenmüller | Universität Zürich

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1
21.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Hochfrequenzphysik und Radartechnik FHR

nachricht Taming chaos: Calculating probability in complex systems
21.03.2018 | American Institute of Physics

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Modular safety concept increases flexibility in plant conversion

22.03.2018 | Trade Fair News

New interactive map shows climate change everywhere in world

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>