Wettability

The need to fend off water is as fundamental as the need to acquire it: water absorption by buildings fosters mold growth and structural breakdown, stagnant surface water breeds disease, and waterlogged clothing interferes with body temperature regulation. 

We traditionally rely on chemical coatings to prevent water absorption and retention, but these wear off over time and can be toxic. In contrast, many organisms use built-in topography: water striders keep their legs dry, mosquitoes defog their eyes, and leaves shed raindrops by limiting water contact to the tips of nanoscale bristles on their surfaces. Air fills the rest of the space under the drop, such that the bristles create a patterned air-solid surface on which macroscopic droplets slide and molecules within each droplet diffuse largely as if the drop were in air. 

We are investigating how patterned features govern motion at these unique interfaces, and have recently optimized liquid-surface dynamics to design ice-preventive materials that deflect impacting droplets at sub-freezing temperatures and nucleate only unstable, low-adhesion ice below that. Since topographic patterns disappear if the bristles lie down, water resistance can be turned on and off simply by bending or tilting, and we use this unique feature to design materials that reversibly switch between hydrophobic and hydrophilic behavior in response to environmental conditions. While liquids other than water are more difficult to resist due to their stronger tendency to spread on a surface, we have recently made the surprising discovery that biofilm – a bacterial commune encased in slime – has a unique multiscale topography that fends off not only water but an unprecedented assortment of other liquids, and we are designing previously elusive resilient, highly nonwetting materials based on our intriguing new role model.

Daniel D, Yao X, Aizenberg J. Stable Liquid Jets Bouncing off Soft Gels. Phys. Rev. Lett. 2018;120 :028006.Abstract

A liquid jet can stably bounce off a sufficiently soft gel by following the contour of the dimple created upon impact. This new phenomenon is insensitive to the wetting properties of the gels and was observed for different liquids over a wide range of surface tensions, γ = 24 − 72 mN/m. In contrast, other jet rebound phenomena are typically sensitive to γ: only a high γ jet rebounds off a hard solid (e.g. superhydrophobic surface) and only a low γ jet bounces off a liquid bath. This is because an air layer must be stabilized between the two interfaces. For a soft gel, no air layer is necessary and the jet rebound remains stable even when there is direct liquid-gel contact.

Daniel D, Timonen JVI, Li R, Velling SJ, Aizenberg J. Oleoplaning droplets on lubricated surfaces. Nat. Phys. [Internet]. 2017;13 :1020-1025. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Recently, there has been much interest in using lubricated surfaces to achieve extreme liquid repellency: a foreign droplet immiscible with the underlying lubricant layer was shown to slide o at a small tilt angle <5◦ . This behaviour was hypothesized to arise from a thin lubricant overlayer film sandwiched between the droplet and solid substrate, but this has not been observed experimentally. Here, using thin-film interference, we are able to visualize the intercalated film under both static and dynamic conditions. We further demonstrate that for a moving droplet, the film thickness follows the Landau–Levich–Derjaguin law. The droplet is therefore oleoplaning—akin to tyres hydroplaning on a wet road—with minimal dissipative force and no contact line pinning. The techniques and insights presented in this study will inform future work on the fundamentals of wetting for lubricated surfaces and enable their rational design.

Burgess IB, Nerger BA, Raymond KP, Goulet-Hanssens A, Singleton TA, Kinney MH, Shneidman AV, Koay N, Barrett CJ, Loncar M, et al. Wetting in Color: From photonic fingerprinting of liquids to optical control of liquid percolation. Proc. of SPIE. 2013;8632 :863201.Abstract

We provide an overview of our recent advances in the manipulation of wetting in inverse-opal photonic crystals. Exploiting photonic crystals with spatially patterned surface chemistry to confine the infiltration of fluids to liquidspecific spatial patterns, we developed a highly selective scheme for colorimetry, where organic liquids are distinguished based on wetting. The high selectivity of wetting, upon-which the sensitivity of the response relies, and the bright iridescent color, which disappears when the pores are filled with liquid, are both a result of the highly symmetric pore structure of our inverse-opal films. The application of horizontally or vertically orientated gradients in the surface chemistry allows a unique response to be tailored to specific liquids. While the generic nature of wetting makes our approach to colorimetry suitable for applications in liquid authentication or identification across a broad range of industries, it also ensures chemical non-specificity. However, we show that chemical specificity can be achieved combinatorially using an array of indicators that each exploits different chemical gradients to cover the same dynamic range of response. Finally, incorporating a photo-responsive polyelectrolyte surface layer into the pores, we are able to dynamically and continuously photo-tune the wetting response, even while the film is immersed in liquid. This in situ optical control of liquid percolation in our photonic-crystal films may also provide an error-free means to tailor indicator response, naturally compensating for batch-to-batch variability in the pore geometry.

Wong T-S, Sun T, Feng L, Aizenberg J. Interfacial materials with special wettability. MRS Bulletin. 2013;38 :366-371.Abstract

Various life forms in nature display a high level of adaptability to their environments through the use of sophisticated material interfaces. This is exemplifi ed by numerous biological systems, such as the self-cleaning of lotus leaves, the water-walking abilities of water striders and spiders, the ultra-slipperiness of pitcher plants, the directional liquid adhesion of butterfl y wings, and the water collection capabilities of beetles, spider webs, and cacti. The versatile interactions of these natural surfaces with fl uids, or special wettability, are enabled by their unique micro/nanoscale surface structures and intrinsic material properties. Many of these biological designs and principles have inspired new classes of functional interfacial materials, which have remarkable potential to solve some of the engineering challenges for industrial and biomedical applications. In this article, we provide a snapshot of the state of the art of biologically inspired materials with special wettability, and discuss some promising future directions for the field.

Utech S, Bley K, Aizenberg J, Vogel N. Tailoring re-entrant geometry in inverse colloidal monolayers to control surface wettability. J. Mater. Chem. A. 2016;4 (18) :6853-6859.Abstract

Controlling the microscopic wetting state of a liquid in contact with a structured surface is the basis for the design of liquid repellent as well as anti-fogging coatings by preventing or enabling a given liquid to infiltrate the surface structures. Similarly, a liquid can be confined to designated surface areas by locally controlling the wetting state, with applications ranging from liquid transport on a surface to creating tailored microenvironments for cell culture or chemical synthesis. The control of the wetting of a low-surfacetension liquid is substantially more difficult compared to water and requires surface structures with overhanging features, known as re-entrant geometries. Here, we use colloidal self-assembly and templating to create two-dimensional nanopore arrays with tailored re-entrant geometry. These pore arrays, termed inverse monolayers, are prepared by backfilling a sacrificial colloidal monolayer with a silica sol–gel precursor material. Varying the precursor concentration enables us to control the degree to which the colloids are embedded into the silica matrix. Upon calcination, nanopores with different opening angles result. The pore opening angle directly correlates with the re-entrant curvature of the surface nanostructures and can be used to control the macroscopic wetting behavior of a liquid sitting on the surface structures. We characterize the wetting of various liquids by static and dynamic contact angles and find correlation between the experimental results and theoretical predictions of the wetting state based on simple geometric considerations. We demonstrate the creation of omniphobic surface coatings that support Cassie–Baxter wetting states for liquids with low surface tensions, including octane (g ¼ 21.7 mN m1). We further use photolithography to spatially confine such low-surface-tension liquids to desired areas of the substrate with high accuracy.

Wei Z, Schneider TM, Kim J, Kim H-J, Aizenberg J, Mahadevan L. Elastocapillary coalescence of plates and pillars. Proc. R. Soc. A. 2015;471 (2175) :20140593.Abstract

When a fluid-immersed array of supported plates or pillars is dried, evaporation leads to the formation of menisci on the tips of the plates or pillars that bring them together to form complex patterns. Building on prior experimental observations, we use a combination of theory and computation to understand the nature of this instability and its evolution in both the two- and three-dimensional setting of the problem. For the case of plates, we explicitly derive the interaction torques based on the relevant physical parameters associated with pillar deformation, contact-line pinning/depinning and fluid volume changes. A Bloch-wave analysis for our periodic mechanical system captures the window of volumes where the two-plate eigenvalue characterizes the onset of the coalescence instability. We then study the evolution of these binary clusters and their eventual elastic arrest using numerical simulations that account for evaporative dynamics coupled to capillary coalescence. This explains both the formation of hierarchical clusters and the sensitive dependence of the final structures on initial perturbations, as seen in our experiments. We then generalize our analysis to treat the problem of pillar collapse in three dimensions, where the fluid domain is completely connected and the interface is a minimal surface with the uniform mean curvature. Our theory and simulations capture the salient features of experimental observations in a range of different situations and may thus be useful in controlling the ensuing patterns.

Phillips KR, England GT, Sunny S, Shirman E, Shirman T, Vogel N, Aizenberg J. A colloidoscope of colloid-based porous materials and their uses. Chem. Soc. Rev. 2016;45 (2) :281-322.Abstract
Nature evolved a variety of hierarchical structures that produce sophisticated functions. Inspired by these natural materials, colloidal self-assembly provides a convenient way to produce structures from simple building blocks with a variety of complex functions beyond those found in nature. In particular, colloid-based porous materials (CBPM) can be made from a wide variety of materials. The internal structure of CBPM also has several key attributes, namely porosity on a sub-micrometer length scale, interconnectivity of these pores, and a controllable degree of order. The combination of structure and composition allow CBPM to attain properties important for modern applications such as photonic inks, colorimetric sensors, self-cleaning surfaces, water purification systems, or batteries. This review summarizes recent developments in the field of CBPM, including principles for their design, fabrication, and applications, with a particular focus on structural features and materials' properties that enable these applications. We begin with a short introduction to the wide variety of patterns that can be generated by colloidal self-assembly and templating processes. We then discuss different applications of such structures, focusing on optics, wetting, sensing, catalysis, and electrodes. Different fields of applications require different properties, yet the modularity of the assembly process of CBPM provides a high degree of tunability and tailorability in composition and structure. We examine the significance of properties such as structure, composition, and degree of order on the materials' functions and use, as well as trends in and future directions for the development of CBPM.
Hou X, Hu Y, Grinthal A, Khan M, Aizenberg J. Liquid-based gating mechanism with tunable multiphase selectivity and antifouling behaviour. Nature. 2015;519 (7541) :70-73.Abstract
Living organisms make extensive use of micro- and nanometre-sized pores as gatekeepers for controlling the movement of fluids, vapours and solids between complex environments. The ability of such pores to coordinate multiphase transport, in a highly selective and subtly triggered fashion and without clogging, has inspired interest in synthetic gated pores for applications ranging from fluid processing to 3D printing and lab-on-chip systems. But although specific gating and transport behaviours have been realized by precisely tailoring pore surface chemistries and pore geometries, a single system capable of controlling complex, selective multiphase transport has remained a distant prospect, and fouling is nearly inevitable. Here we introduce a gating mechanism that uses a capillary-stabilized liquid as a reversible, reconfigurable gate that fills and seals pores in the closed state, and creates a non-fouling, liquid-lined pore in the open state. Theoretical modelling and experiments demonstrate that for each transport substance, the gating threshold—the pressure needed to open the pores—can be rationally tuned over a wide pressure range. This enables us to realize in one system differential response profiles for a variety of liquids and gases, even letting liquids flow through the pore while preventing gas from escaping. These capabilities allow us to dynamically modulate gas–liquid sorting in a microfluidic flow and to separate a three-phase air–water–oil mixture, with the liquid lining ensuring sustained antifouling behaviour. Because the liquid gating strategy enables efficient long-term operation and can be applied to a variety of pore structures and membrane materials, and to micro- as well as macroscale fluid systems, we expect it to prove useful in a wide range of applications.
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