Substrate curvature gradient drives rapid droplet motion

Phys Rev Lett. 2014 Jul 11;113(2):026101. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.113.026101. Epub 2014 Jul 10.


Making small liquid droplets move spontaneously on solid surfaces is a key challenge in lab-on-chip and heat exchanger technologies. Here, we report that a substrate curvature gradient can accelerate micro- and nanodroplets to high speeds on both hydrophilic and hydrophobic substrates. Experiments for microscale water droplets on tapered surfaces show a maximum speed of 0.42 m/s, 2 orders of magnitude higher than with a wettability gradient. We show that the total free energy and driving force exerted on a droplet are determined by the substrate curvature and substrate curvature gradient, respectively. Using molecular dynamics simulations, we predict nanoscale droplets moving spontaneously at over 100 m/s on tapered surfaces.