On the role of the three-phase contact line in surface deformation

Aisha Leh, Hartmann E. N'guessan, Jianguo Fan, Prashant Bahadur, Rafael Tadmor, Yiping Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Viscoelastic braking theories developed by Shanahan and de Gennes and by others predict deformation of a solid surface at the solid-liquid-air contact line. This phenomenon has only been observed for soft smooth surfaces and results in a protrusion of the solid surface at the three-phase contact line, in agreement with the theoretical predictions. Despite the large (enough to break chemical bonds) forces associated with it, this deformation was not confirmed experimentally for hard surfaces, especially for hydrophobic ones. In this study we use superhydrophobic surfaces composed of an array of silicon nanostructures whose Young modulus is 4 orders of magnitude higher than that of surfaces in earlier recorded viscoelastic braking experiments. We distinguish between two cases: when a water drop forms an adhesive contact, albeit small, with the apparent contact angle ? < 180° and when the drop-surface adhesion is such that the conditions for placing a resting drop on the surface cannot be reached (i.e., ? = 180°). In the first case we show that there is a surface deformation at the three-phase contact line which is associated with a reduction in the hydrophobicity of the surface. For the second case, however, there cannot be a three-phase contact line associated with a drop in contact with the surface, and indeed, if we force-place a drop on the surface by holding it with a needle, no deformation is detected, nor is there a reduction in the hydrophobic properties of the surface. Yet, if we create a long horizontal three-phase contact line by partially immersing the superhydrophobic substrate in a water bath, we see a localized reduction in the hydrophobic properties of the surface in the region where the three-phase contact line used to be. The SEM scan of that region shows a narrow horizontal stripe where the nanorods are no longer there, and instead there is only a shallow structure that is lower than the nanorods height and resembles fused or removed nanorods. Away from that region, either on the part of the surface which was exposed to bulk water or the part which was exposed to air, no change in the hydrophobic properties of the surface is observed, and the SEM scan confirms that the nanorods seem intact in both regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5795-5801
Number of pages7
Issue number13
StatePublished - 3 Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry


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