Status of the three-phase line tension: a review

Adv Colloid Interface Sci. 2004 Aug 31;110(3):121-41. doi: 10.1016/j.cis.2004.05.001.


From a thermodynamic point of view, the concept of line tension is on solid ground; it is well recognized and defined. There is a notion in the literature that there is little consensus with regards to magnitude or sign of line tension. Partly, inappropriate comparisons of line tension values may have contributed to the current uncertainty, especially some between theoretical and experimental values. A wide range of reported line tension values may not necessarily be a result of conflicting findings, but it may reflect the diversity of systems studied. However, differences among similar approaches and systems observed are sometimes caused by one or several of the following factors: difficulties in sample preparation, poor experimental techniques, non-equilibrium, or conceptual and theoretical difficulties and over simplifications. It is important to clearly establish the magnitude and sign of line tension as it may determine its relevance to technological applications such as microfluidic systems. This review has examined a wide range of recent and past studies on the subject of line tension. The review classifies line tension studies into theoretical and experimental; it further groups the studies into liquid-liquid-vapor and solid-liquid-vapor systems for each category. The review provides a comparison between similar studies in an attempt to clarify the current status of line tension research. The majority of theoretical line tension studies (excluding the near wetting studies) have estimates for line tension of about 10(-10) N; however, for special cases, values as high as 10(-6) N are also reported. There is less consensus regarding the sign for the line tension as theoreticians often assert that line tension can have either a positive or a negative sign. In experimental studies of liquid-liquid-vapor systems the majority of studies reported positive values for line tension; for film studies, the magnitude of line tension reported was between 10(-9) and 10(-7) N, whereas for studies of liquid lens values as high as 10(-6) N were also reported. The clear majority of studies for solid-liquid-vapor systems reported a positive sign for line tension. In studies involving particles, line tension values ranged from 10(-9) to 10(-6) N. Studies using drop size dependence of contact angles reported values mostly in the span of 10(-9)-10(-6) N; however, a clear majority of the reported values fell in the higher end of the above range. The special topic of line tension near wetting was also studied. While the interface displacement model appears to have brought about consensus with respect to certain aspects of line tension behavior near wetting, this model maybe still too phenomenological to be satisfactory from a more fundamental standing. Experimentalists have just begun studying line tension for systems near wetting, this is encouraging, but more comprehensive studies are needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chemistry, Physical / methods*
  • Colloids / chemistry*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Models, Statistical
  • Phase Transition
  • Surface Properties*
  • Surface Tension*
  • Thermodynamics
  • Wetting Agents / chemistry


  • Colloids
  • Wetting Agents