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.

Yao X, Hu Y, Grinthal A, Wong T-S, Mahadevan L, Aizenberg J. Adaptive fluid-infused porous films with tunable transparency and wettability. Nature Materials. 2013;12 :529-534. Full TextAbstract
Materials that adapt dynamically to environmental changes are currently limited to two-state switching of single properties, and only a small number of strategies that may lead to materials with continuously adjustable characteristics have been reported1-3. Here we introduce adaptive surfaces made of a liquid film supported by a nanoporous elastic substrate. As the substrate deforms, the liquid flows within the pores causing the smooth and defect-free surface to roughen through a continuous range of topographies. We show that a graded mechanical stimulus can be directly translated into finely tuned, dynamic adjustments of optical transparency and wettability. In particular, we demonstrate simultaneous control of the film's transparency and its ability to continuously manipulate various low-surface-tension droplets from free-sliding to pinned. This strategy should make possible the rational design of tunable, multifunctional adaptive materials for a broad range of applications.
Burgess IB, Aizenberg J, Loncar M. Creating bio-inspired hierarchical 3D–2D photonic stacks via planar lithography on self-assembled inverse opals. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. 2013;8 :045004. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Structural hierarchy and complex 3D architecture are characteristics of biological photonic designs that are challenging to reproduce in synthetic materials. Top–down lithography allows for designer patterning of arbitrary shapes, but is largely restricted to planar 2D structures. Self-assembly techniques facilitate easy fabrication of 3D photonic crystals, but controllable defect-integration is difficult. In this paper we combine the advantages of top–down and bottom–up fabrication, developing two techniques to deposit 2D-lithographically-patterned planar layers on top of or in between inverse-opal 3D photonic crystals and creating hierarchical structures that resemble the architecture of the bright green wing scales of the butterfly, Parides sesostris. These fabrication procedures, combining advantages of both top–down and bottom–up fabrication, may prove useful in the development of omnidirectional coloration elements and 3D–2D photonic crystal devices.
Park K-C, Kim P, Grinthal A, He N, Fox D, Weaver JC, Aizenberg J. Condensation on slippery asymmetric bumps. Nature. 2016;531 (7592) :78-82.Abstract
Controlling dropwise condensation is fundamental to water-harvesting systems, desalination, thermal power generation, air conditioning, distillation towers, and numerous other applications. For any of these, it is essential to design surfaces that enable droplets to grow rapidly and to be shed as quickly as possible. However, approaches based on microscale, nanoscale or molecular-scale textures suffer from intrinsic trade-offs that make it difficult to optimize both growth and transport at once. Here we present a conceptually different design approach—based on principles derived from Namib desert beetles, cacti, and pitcher plants—that synergistically combines these aspects of condensation and substantially outperforms other synthetic surfaces. Inspired by an unconventional interpretation of the role of the beetle’s bumpy surface geometry in promoting condensation, and using theoretical modelling, we show how to maximize vapour diffusion flux at the apex of convex millimetric bumps by optimizing the radius of curvature and cross-sectional shape. Integrating this apex geometry with a widening slope, analogous to cactus spines, directly couples facilitated droplet growth with fast directional transport, by creating a free-energy profile that drives the droplet down the slope before its growth rate can decrease. This coupling is further enhanced by a slippery, pitcher-plant-inspired nanocoating that facilitates feedback between coalescence-driven growth and capillary-driven motion on the way down. Bumps that are rationally designed to integrate these mechanisms are able to grow and transport large droplets even against gravity and overcome the effect of an unfavourable temperature gradient. We further observe an unprecedented sixfold-higher exponent of growth rate, faster onset, higher steady-state turnover rate, and a greater volume of water collected compared to other surfaces. We envision that this fundamental understanding and rational design strategy can be applied to a wide range of water-harvesting and phase-change heat-transfer applications.
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