Leveraging Capillarity

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Virginia Tech


Surface tension is an essential force for the functioning of the world and life. Centuries of study, and still, new applications and limits of surface tension are being explored. Water has always drawn attention for its high surface tension value, 72mN/m compared to ethanol's 20mN/m. The high surface tension allows for numerous applications, superhydrophobic surfaces being one that takes heavy advantage of that value. Superhydrophobicsurfaceshave a high surface energy cost with water, resulting in small contact areas with high advancing and receding contact angles and low contact angle hysteresis. This results in very low adhesion on the surfaces. Here we study the ability of superhydrophobic surfaces with their low adhesion to shed meltwater from frost, showing a decrease in frost thickness to below 3mm for the meltwater to shed. We then take another approach to removing water from a surface, rather than increasing the surface energy cost, we introduce a difference in surface energy cost. Introducing a porous surface across from a solid one, droplets transfer from the solid to the porous, removing over 90% of the volume of the droplet from the solid surface. We thoroughly examine and model the hydrodynamics of the transfer process, varying the solid surface, the donor surface, and the liquid. This bridging between surfaces is then applied to fog harps, examining the efficiencies of large-form fog harps. Fog harps have shown a 3 to 5 times increase in water collection compared to the industry-standard mesh collector. However, droplets from fog collected on the wires eventually grow large enough to touch neighboring wires. Tominimizetheirsurfaceenergy, they begin pulling wires together, "tangling" them. This can potentially reduce efficiency, but has not been applied to large-scale harps until here. Another application of surface tension is then examined, using lower surface tension oils, but trapping them in microstructures to make slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces (SLIPS). The oil coats the microstructure, due to its lower surface tension. This creates a lubricating layer on the surface, along with potential air pockets reducing friction further. These surfaces have been studied extensively with liquids being placed on them, but here we begin to examine them when solids are used instead, showing some interesting cases where increasing the viscosity of the oil actually decreases the friction force.



Interfacial phenomena, dropwise condensation, liquid bridges, frost, SLIPS