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An engineered surface unsticks sticky water droplets

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The leaves of the lotus flower, and other natural surfaces that repel water and dirt, have been the model for many types of engineered liquid-repelling surfaces. As slippery as these surfaces are, however, tiny water droplets still stick to them. Now, Penn State researchers have developed nano/micro-textured, highly slippery surfaces able to outperform these naturally inspired coatings, particularly when the water is a vapor or tiny droplets.

Enhancing the mobility of liquid droplets on rough surfaces could improve condensation heat transfer for power-plant heat exchangers, create more efficient water harvesting in arid regions, and prevent icing and frosting on aircraft wings.

"This represents a fundamentally new concept in engineered surfaces," said Tak-Sing Wong, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a faculty member in the Penn State Materials Research Institute. "Our surfaces combine the unique surface architectures of lotus leaves and pitcher plants in such a way that these surfaces possess both high surface area and a slippery interface to enhance droplet collection and mobility. Mobility of liquid droplets on rough surfaces is highly dependent on how the liquid wets the surface. We have demonstrated for the first time experimentally that liquid droplets can be highly mobile when in the Wenzel state."