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Superhydrophobicity from the Inside

Simovich, Tomer, Ritchie, Cameron, Belev, George, Cooper, David M. L., Lamb, Robert N.
Langmuir 2017 v.33 no.49 pp. 13990-13995
Salvinia molesta, X-radiation, air, contact angle, electrostatic interactions, ferns and fern allies, hydrophobicity, longevity, surface roughness, tomography, vapor pressure
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 micropatterned 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 microdroplets <20 μm in diameter that are sandwiched within the 30 μm thick gaseous interfacial layer. These microdroplets 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 microdroplets 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 increasing underwater longevity. Homogenous surfaces exhibiting purely nano- or micro-regularity do not support such microdroplets, and, as a consequence, plastrons can disappear in <20 h compared with >160 h for surfaces with scattered microdroplets. Such behavior may be a requirement for long-term nonwetting in any system.