Hanging droplets from liquid surfaces

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Apr 14;117(15):8360-8365. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1922045117. Epub 2020 Mar 27.


Natural and man-made robotic systems use the interfacial tension between two fluids to support dense objects on liquid surfaces. Here, we show that coacervate-encased droplets of an aqueous polymer solution can be hung from the surface of a less dense aqueous polymer solution using surface tension. The forces acting on and the shapes of the hanging droplets can be controlled. Sacs with homogeneous and heterogeneous surfaces are hung from the surface and, by capillary forces, form well-ordered arrays. Locomotion and rotation can be achieved by embedding magnetic microparticles within the assemblies. Direct contact of the droplet with air enables in situ manipulation and compartmentalized cascading chemical reactions with selective transport. Applications including functional microreactors, motors, and biomimetic robots are evident.

Keywords: aqueous two-phase system; biomimetic; compartmentalization; droplet transport; hanging droplets.

Publication types

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