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Article
Superhydrophobicity from the Inside
Tomer Simovich, Cameron Ritchie, George Belev, and Robert Norman Lamb
Langmuir, Just Accepted Manuscript • DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.7b01350 • Publication Date (Web): 24 Oct 2017
Downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org on October 25, 2017
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Superhydrophobicity from the Inside
Tomer Simovich a*, Cameron Ritchie a,b, George Belev c, Robert N. Lamb a,c
a
School of Chemistry, University of Melbourne, Parkville, 3010, Victoria, Australia
b
Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne, Parkville 3010, Victoria, Australia
c
Canadian Light Source (CLS), Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Keywords: superhydrophobic,
micro-tomography,
nanostructure, interface, air-water
interaction.
ABSTRACT The nature of trapped air on submersed ultra-water-repellent interfaces has been
investigated. These gaseous layers (plastrons) can last from hours to, in some examples such
as the Salvinia molesta fern, months. The interface of submerged superhydrophobic surfaces
with carefully controlled micro-patterned surface roughness has been probed using
synchrotron based high resolution X-ray phase tomography. This technique looks in situ,
through the aqueous/gas interface in three dimensions. Long term plastron stability appears to
correlate with the appearance of scattered micro-droplets less than 20 µm in diameter that are
sandwiched within the 30 µm thick gaseous interfacial layer. These micro-droplets are
centered on defects or damaged sections within the substrate surface approximately 20-50 µm
apart. Such irregularities represent heterogeneous micro/nano hierarchical structures with
varying surface structures and chemistry. The stability of micro-droplets is governed by a
combination of electrostatic repulsion, contact angle limitations and a saturated vapor
pressure, the latter of which reduces the rate of diffusion of gas out of the air-layer thus
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increasing underwater longevity. Homogenous surfaces exhibiting purely nano or micro
regularity do not support such micro-droplets and as a consequence, plastrons can disappear
in less than 20 hours compared to greater than 160 hours for surfaces with scattered microdroplets. Such behavior may be a requirement for long term non wetting in any system.
INTRODUCTION Non-stick, water repellent coatings are the result of a combination of
chemical hydrophobicity and multiscale surface roughness. Significant interest stems from
their inherent self-cleaning1, drag reduction properties2, 3, and more recently, marine antifouling4 capabilities. The fabrication and characterization of superhydrophobic coatings have
been thoroughly explored in the literature, while the air-retaining abilities of submerged
superhydrophobic surfaces have been given less attention due to the lack of performance
standards and measurement techniques. The underwater longevity of superhydrophobic
surfaces is related to the lifetime of the entrapped air layer. The stability of air layers is not
linked with water-surface contact angle because two separate systems exist; a static
instantaneous measurement for contact angle, and a dynamic, shifting system for air layer
longevity where the shape of the entrapped air layer changes over time. The gaseous layer
present between structural features of the surface topography continuously dissipates by
dissolving into the surrounding liquid via diffusion. The rate of diffusion is primarily related
to the gas pressure inside the air layer and the liquid-gas interfacial area. Thus, it is important
to address the shape of the plastron as well as its constituents. Superhydrophobic surfaces
consist of a rough topography usually involving protrusions and porous structures to reduce
the solid-liquid contact area and minimize liquid adhesion. A range of surface structures may
be utilized in order to achieve high superhydrophobic contact angle but many result in
increased liquid-air interfacial area due to heterogeneous roughness. Hierarchical structures
are known to produce ideal superhydrophobic character and low hysteresis5 but their effect
on underwater longevity is poorly studied. When immersed in water, a heterogeneous nano-
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rough surface gives rise to high liquid-gas interfacial area. Although the liquid-solid contact
area is small, there are many points of contact and they may vary in both height and distance
leading to a ‘crumpled’ liquid-gas interface. On the other hand, a surface with homogenous,
repeating structures of the same height may lead to a smoother ‘wavy’ liquid-gas interface.
An important factor is that the shape of the plastron also changes with time; initially the air
layer is convex due to an overpressure inside the plastron and buoyancy of the air layer
underwater6, 7. As air diffuses out and the pressure equalizes, the air layer shifts to a concave
shape8,
9
as the liquid-solid contact line progresses. As the plastron volume changes, the
pressure will remain constant because the loss of gas due to diffusion results in a reduction in
volume. Therefore during the over-arching macro-plastron stage, the pressure in the air layer
is determined by the hydrostatic pressure. The curvature of the air-liquid interface is
important in determining the solvation of the gas into the water and therefore controls the
lifetime of the plastron underwater. A combination of surface morphologies can improve
longevity of the plastron by preventing the gradual increase in curvature throughout plastron
dissipation. The current limitation surrounding the design and fabrication of better coatings
involves the depletion of this air layer and nature still has the upper hand through millennia of
optimization. The Salvinia fern and lettuce leaf (Pistia stratiotes) can withstand wetting for
up to several days6. Due to this, the longevity of superhydrophobic coatings has been a
highlight of recent literature9,
10, 11
. In this paper, we utilize synchrotron x-ray imaging to
elucidate a possible cause of increased plastron longevity on pillared microstructures and
discuss what possible surface properties give rise to the micro-droplet phenomenon.
EXPERIMENTAL Micro-pillared silicon substrates were prepared via photolithography
using an EVG6200 through inductively coupled plasma etching at the Melbourne Centre for
Nanofabrication (MCN). The surfaces were designed with a range of pillar widths and
spacing with a height of ≈ 15 µm (Figure 1). Substrates were then spray coated with a silica
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nanoparticle sol-gel solution as described in Arnott et al.4 before half were coated with C4F8
vapor deposition to ensure consistent hydrophobic chemistry using an Oxford ICP
PlasmaLab100, 150 sccm, 10ºC baseplate temperature for 30 seconds.
Figure 1. (A) Smooth homogenous nanoparticle coating (scale bar 5 µm) and (B)
heterogeneous micro-pillared nanoparticle coating with highlighted (green) smooth silicon
defect (scale bar 5 µm).
1x1 mm samples of pillared surfaces and lettuce leaves (Pistia statiotes) were fixed onto
dental wax and submerged in distilled water (approx. 1 mL) for 2 hours prior to microcomputed tomography imaging in order to equilibrate any dissolved gases with the
atmosphere (BMIT-ID, Canadian Light Source, Saskatchewan, Canada) (See Figure 2 for
schematic). Scans were performed at atmospheric pressure and at 25ºC. The sample tube was
5mm in diameter and the water level was approximately 13 mm. For each sample a total of
600 micro-tomographic slices were acquired covering a total 3.6 mm x 2.4 mm field of view
in order to image the entire surface of the water-sample interface throughout the sample
rotation. Total examination time per sample was approximately 2 hours for a voxel size of 0.9
µm3 (X-ray energy = 30 keV, detector to sample distance = 160 mm, distance to source = 55
m). The system was presumed stable with minimal high energy x-ray interactions
demonstrating no visible change in bubble morphology2.
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Figure 2. Schematic illustrating sample mounting and scanning procedure (straw diameter =
5mm).
Reconstruction of tomographic slices was carried out using NRecon (Bruker Micro-CT)
and 3-dimensional images were rendered in Amira ResolveRT (FEI, Thermo Fisher
Scientific) software. Electrostatic force calculations were conducted using Mathematica® 9.0
For wetting studies samples were submerged in 10 cm of distilled water and time lapse
images were recorded through a 500x USB digital microscope captured at a 45 º angle to the
surface. Contact angle measurements were obtained using a Ramé-hart Inc. goniometer with
15 µL droplets.
RESULTS & DISCUSSION Hierarchically rough superhydrophobic coatings exhibited longlived plastrons when submerged underwater lasting up to one week. The fabricated surfaces
consisted of naturally occurring surface defects due to the spraying process; where smooth
silicon pillars were exposed under a layer of nano-rough hydrophobized sol-gel. In
fluorinated samples, removal of the nanoparticle coating due to damage caused the exposed
silicon wafer to act as a hydrophilic pinning point both structurally (very smooth) and
chemically. A closer look at the interface, where liquid, solid and gas meet, revealed a
scattered array of metastable micro-droplets ranging from 6 to 20 µm in diameter in the air
layer (Figure 3 & 4). They may form on surface defects in two ways; during immersion water
gets attached to pinning points while the surrounding water gets pushed away by the
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hydrophobic environment, or smooth hydrophilic pinning points act as sources for capillary
condensation12. Due to the long scan times the initial formation of the micro-droplets cannot
be captured, samples were only imaged hours after preparation, reinforcing the presumed
stability of the micro-droplets. When a larger surface structure is present, for example in
Pistia stratiotes (water lettuce), micro-droplets up to 50 µm in diameter are observed to be
lodged between features such as hairs. It therefore seems as the size of the micro-droplets is
limited by the available area and larger droplets that form immediately coalesce with the
water layer above without wetting the surface. Figure 3 illustrates two states of micro-droplet
distribution on the surface; near a large surface defect and throughout a regular array of
superhydrophobic pillars. For both smooth and pillared nanoparticle surfaces, the plastron is
approximately 30 µm higher than the plane of the surface projection. This is due to the initial
positive pressure present in the air layer created by fully submerging the sample in water7.
Typically, the inter-droplet distance varies from 20-50 µm but droplets become densely
packed around large defects due to more pinning points and smaller droplets were observed
in areas of high micro-droplet density. It was observed that 10 µm micro-droplets exist for
hours while sitting 5 µm away from each other, supporting the stability and repulsion theories
explored below. Since the micro-droplets do not coalesce with the planar water interface
above the plastron and remain stable during imaging for an extended period of time13, 14, 15, it
is theorized that they contribute to the extended longevity of the coating’s non-wetting
properties by means of both maintaining a vapor saturated environment and slight
electrostatic repulsion. Water droplets have been observed using confocal microscopy16 and
described as facilitating wetting, but only in a system with increasing hydrostatic pressure. As
the water layer is pushed against the micro-droplets, they ultimately coalesce. If the pressure
forcing the wetting line is constant, the air layer depletion solely depends on gas solubility via
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diffusion. It is possible to calculate the diffusion time of gas out of a plastron. By considering
the concentrations of gases near the interface and the gas exchange coefficient:
=
ℎ
Where D is the diffusion coefficient of gas in water in m2/s, and h is the height of the water
layer in m. The flux can be estimated using the Ostwald solubility coefficient:
= × Where Hcp is Henry solubility defined via concentration in mol/(L atm). The gas exchange
coefficient may be used in the water convection model17 which takes into account a large
range of factors including temperature gradients, evaporation and condensation, pressure
fluctuations and currents. Simple models in literature agree that:
= × (, )
where Sc is the schmidt number =
where v is the kinematic velocity of water (0.892 ×
10# m2s-1), and f(q,L) is some turbulence function with respect to some turbulent velocity q
and length scale L. f(q,L) is difficult to parameterize accurately, especially for systems with
low/no wind or currents that would otherwise dominate the function, although, the range can
be estimated based on the lifetime of bubbles and plastrons on submerged surfaces. Thus a
dissipation time experimentally measured to be approximately 20 hours fits well with the
water convection model above, resulting in water convection in the order of m/s. This value
is in line with experimental longevity results of homogenous silica nanoparticle coatings that
remain dry anywhere between 10 and 20 hours.
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Figure 3. Surface projection of a submerged sample including a large horizontal surface
defect (Black). Water micro-droplets (in green) are scattered throughout the pillared surface
and additionally clustered around the defect The vertical white artefact is a result of x-ray
reflections at the scan’s center of rotation due to the air-water interface above.
The survivability of discrete micro-droplets of water inside the plastron is related to their
ability to resist coalescence. With very small diameters a high Laplace pressure exists inside
water micro-droplets preventing them from deforming. The spherical shape inherently limits
the contact area between to micro-droplets or the water layer above, creating a kinetic
activation barrier to their coalescence. Additionally, at small scales the electrostatic forces
caused by surface charge even in pure water become apparent. Many years of experiments on
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the mobility of bubbles in an electric field have indicated the air/water interface retains a
negative charge through the evidence of measured negative zeta potentials18, 19. Molecular
simulations20 have determined the density of hydroxide ions at the interface to be one in
every 1000 nm2 leading to a surface charge density of 0.021 µC cm-2. Although small, the
charged surface influences the repulsion of micro-droplets from the water layer above. The
repulsive force between a micro-droplet and the water layer above is dependent on the droplet
size due to a surface area dependence of the droplets total charge, as well as a radius
dependence on the distance the individual charges interact across. Electrostatic forces
between the water layer and micro-droplets were calculated in the bispherical coordinate
system using analytical calculations of a dielectric sphere with surface charge density at set
separation from a dielectric plane also exhibiting a surface charge density20, 21. The repulsive
force for 20 µm and 50 µm micro-droplets on the water layer above were conducted at
various separations to investigate all of length-scales of interest and are presented in Table 1.
Relevant calculation details are summarized from Khachatourian et al.22 in Supporting
Information.
Table 1. Repulsive force of a micro-droplet on a water layer at various droplet-water layer
separation distances. The dielectric constant of both the micro-droplet and water layer were
78.4, the dielectric constant of the surrounds was 1 corresponding to air, the surface charge
density on the micro-droplet and water layer were 0.021 µC cm-2, and the number of terms in
the Legendre polynomial expansions followed Table II in Khachatourian et al.22
Micro-droplet to water layer
Force from 20 µm
Force from 50 µm diameter
separation (µm)
diameter droplet (N)
droplet (N)
$
1
9.91 × 10
1.66 × 10&
5
1.20 × 10$
2.40 × 10#
10
4.66 × 10(
1.05 × 10#
20
1.35 × 10(
2.93 × 10$
The repulsive forces calculated are significant when compared to the gravitational force
applied on a 13 mm water layer over a 10 µm x 10 µm area, a typical micro-droplet spacing:
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+, = -./01 × 12345 × 6789345 = (10 × 10; × 13) × 1
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<
× 9.8 = 1.3 × 10& >
=
It should be noted however that the repulsive force does not continue to increase with
decreasing micro-droplet size in the sub-micron separation regime. Instead a decrease in
repulsive force occurs, which becomes an attractive force at ≈300 nm, resulting in water layer
and the micro-droplet fusion22. This significant electrostatic repulsion supports the reported
longevity of micro-droplets inside submerged superhydrophobic coatings. A scattered array
of micro-droplets may produce a hindering effect on the slow progression of the wetting line
over hours and days of surface immersion. The pressure exerted on the water layer by microdroplets can be calculated as follows using an example case:
For a 20 µm diameter sphere, with a micro-droplet to water layer spacing of 20 µm, over a
typical area containing a single micro-droplet of 100 µm2,
?@A =
+@A
0.135 × 10$ [>]
>
=
= 135 F G = 1.33 × 10= [84]
&
&
BC (10 × 10 )[ ]
Where Pmd is the pressure exerted on the water layer by the micro-droplet due to electrostatic
repulsion, Fmd is the electrostatic force of a single micro-droplet on the water layer, and Asp
is the surface area spacing between microdroplets. The hydrostatic pressure exerted by a 13
mm water layer (present during imaging) due to gravity on the plastron is 1.26 × 10= [84]
(see Supporting Information for calculations). The pressure experienced in the plastron
relative to atmospheric pressure is then:
?H − ?@A = 1.26 × 10= [84] − 1.33 × 10= [84] = −0.07 × 10= [84]
This implies that there would in fact be a lower concentration of gas inside the plastron
relative to the amount solubilized in the water and as such a small net influx of gas into the
plastron under these conditions is expected. If the micro-droplets are stable, this system
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would reach an equilibrium in which a plastron would be present indefinitely. Other entropic
factors as well as external convection and temperature fluctuations limit the microdroplet and
plastron lifetime.
Figure 4. Computed Tomography reconstructions of micro-droplets (air/water interface
colored blue) stabilized on micro-pillared structures (yellow/orange) inside an air layer
(black) while underwater (upper black). Bottom – Tomographic slice.
The existence of micro-droplets slows the wetting progression, preventing highly curved
interfaces (Figure 5). Studies have indicated a characteristic ‘onset time’ followed by rapid
decay7. Poetes et al. describes a decrease in reflectivity during air layer diffusion only after a
long period of relative stability. While the air-layer is relatively planar, micro-droplet
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repulsion prevents wetting progression. Once decay has taken place, prompting interface
curvature, Laplace pressure coupled with hydrostatic pressure overcomes any micro-droplet
repulsion.
Figure 5. Schematic of micro-droplets inside the almost planar plastron highlighting
saturated water vapor and electrostatic repulsion and the effects on the plastron lifetime and
tomograph of plastron on nanoparticle coated pillared sample.
Live water lettuce leaves (Pistia stratiotes) were successfully imaged via synchrotron X-Ray
computed micro-tomography and were shown to exhibit stabilized micro-droplets trapped
between superhydrophobic hairs (Figure 6). This supports the hypothesis that micro-droplets
may slow the gradual collapse of the plastron and plants have evolutionarily combated this by
forming regular hydrophilic pinning points located in a surrounding superhydrophobic
structure6.
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Figure 6. 3-dimensional reconstruction of X-Ray tomography scans of a submerged water
lettuce leaf with micro-droplets highlighted in blue. The white structures are the dry
hydrophobic hairs of the leaf and the over-arching orange hue signifies the water layer above
the submerged leaf.
To confirm the increased stability of these coatings, wetting studies were performed, in
triplicate, on (a) pillared substrates (Figure 1B) coated in nanoparticles, (b) smooth substrates
(Figure 1A) coated in nanoparticles and (c) pristine fluorinated silicon pillars without
nanoparticle coating. The pillared substrate (a) possesses variable structure with
imperfections present as exposed smooth pillars or inconsistent nanoparticle thickness and
conversely the smooth substrate (b) consists of a consistent homogenous roughness. It is
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possible to pinpoint the transformation from a superhydrophobic state to a wetted state by
examining the reflectivity of the plastron present on the surface4. The pillared surfaces (a)
exhibited greater longevity and remained dry after being submerged for 160 hours. Pristine
silicon pillars (c) became fully wetted within 30 minutes after immersion (dry contact angle
of 156º). The consistent nanoparticle coatings (b) were wet after 20 hours and upon removal
demonstrated a contact angle of 54º ± 1º while the pillared surface (a) was dry and still
indicated superhydrophobicity with a contact angle of 150º ± 2.4º.
CONCLUSION For the first time, the existence of water micro-droplets entrapped within
plastrons has been observed experimentally. These correlate with a major stabilizing effect on
the plastron longevity. The repulsive effect of very small droplets has been extensively
explored in literature and supports the observation that micro-drops can exist in a meta-stable
state while repelling the water layer above with significant force compared to the effect of
gravity. The micro-droplets additionally maintain high plastron humidity, thermodynamically
reducing gas dissolution resulting in longer plastron lifetimes. Micro-droplets require
irregularities on the surface to form where they can nucleate at impurities or imperfections
with reduced mobility achieved by a change in surface structure or chemistry.
The formation of immobile droplets through condensation has been discussed in the literature
and confirms the innate stability of micro-droplets. The micro-droplet phenomenon outlined
here provides a parallel pathway to water-repellent characteristics, demonstrating that
nanostructure is used not only to trap air, but to trap water droplets capable of reducing
wetting of a superhydrophobic surface. This provides insight into the mechanism of
superhydrophobic surfaces and may aid further research by incorporating chemical and
structural irregularities into the design of superhydrophobic coatings for plastron longevity in
underwater applications.
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AUTHOR INFORMATION
Corresponding Author
* Corresponding Author E-mail: tomers@student.unimelb.edu.au
Author Contributions
The manuscript was written through contributions of all authors. All authors have given
approval to the final version of the manuscript.
Funding Sources
The financial support of the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Projects (Project
DP120104536) is gratefully acknowledged.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
The authors acknowledge Assoc. Prof. David M.L. Cooper for assistance in acquiring
tomographic data. This work was performed in part at the Melbourne Centre for
Nanofabrication (MCN) in the Victorian Node of the Australian National Fabrication Facility
(ANFF). We acknowledge travel funding provided by the International Synchrotron Access
Program (ISAP) managed by the Australian Synchrotron and funded by the Australian
Government. Research described in this paper was performed on 05ID-2 beamline25 at the
BMIT facility at the Canadian Light Source, which is supported by the Canada Foundation
for Innovation, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the
University of Saskatchewan, the Government of Saskatchewan, Western Economic
Diversification Canada, the National Research Council Canada, and the Canadian Institutes
of Health Research.
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Figure 1. (A) Smooth homogenous nanoparticle coating (scale bar 5µm) and (B) heterogeneous micropillared nanoparticle coating with highlighted (green) smooth silicon defect (scale bar 5µm).
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Figure 2. Schematic illustrating sample mounting and scanning procedure (straw diameter = 5mm).
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Figure 3. Surface projection of a submerged sample including a large horizontal surface defect (Black).
Water micro-droplets (in green) are scattered throughout the pillared surface and additionally clustered
around the defect The vertical white artefact is a result of x-ray reflections at the scan’s center of rotation
due to the air-water interface above.
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Figure 4. Computed Tomography reconstructions of micro-droplets (air/water interface colored blue)
stabilized on micro-pillared structures (yellow/orange) inside an air layer (black) while underwater (upper
black). Bottom – Tomographic slice.
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Schematic of micro-droplets inside the almost planar plastron highlighting saturated water vapor and
electrostatic repulsion and the effects on the plastron lifetime and tomograph of plastron on nanoparticle
coated pillared sample.
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Figure 6. 3-dimensional reconstruction of X-Ray tomography scans of a submerged Water Lettuce leaf with
micro-droplets highlighted in blue. The white structures are the dry hydrophobic hairs of the leaf and the
over-arching orange hue signifies the water layer above the submerged leaf.
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TOC Figure
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