Microdroplet growth mechanism during water condensation on superhydrophobic surfaces

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174 Scopus citations


By promoting dropwise condensation of water, nanostructured superhydrophobic coatings have the potential to dramatically increase the heat transfer rate during this phase change process. As a consequence, these coatings may be a facile method of enhancing the efficiency of power generation and water desalination systems. However, the microdroplet growth mechanism on surfaces which evince superhydrophobic characteristics during condensation is not well understood. In this work, the sub-10 μm dynamics of droplet formation on nanostructured superhydrophobic surfaces are studied experimentally and theoretically. A quantitative model for droplet growth in the constant base (CB) area mode is developed. The model is validated using optimized environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) imaging of microdroplet growth on a superhydrophobic surface consisting of immobilized alumina nanoparticles modified with a hydrophobic promoter. The optimized ESEM imaging procedure increases the image acquisition rate by a factor of 10-50 as compared to previous research. With the improved imaging temporal resolution, it is demonstrated that nucleating nanodroplets coalesce to create a wetted flat spot with a diameter of a few micrometers from which the microdroplet emerges in purely CB mode. After the droplet reaches a contact angle of 130-150°, its base diameter increases in a discrete steplike fashion. The droplet height does not change appreciably during this steplike base diameter increase, leading to a small decrease of the contact angle. Subsequently, the drop grows in CB mode until it again reaches the maximum contact angle and increases its base diameter in a steplike fashion. This microscopic stick-and-slip motion can occur up to four times prior to the droplet coalescence with neighboring drops. Lastly, the constant contact angle (CCA) and the CB growth models are used to show that modeling formation of a droplet with a 150° contact angle in the CCA mode rather than in the CB mode severely underpredicts both the drop formation time and the average heat transfer rate through the drop.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7720-7729
Number of pages10
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 22 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry


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