The transport of a small amount of liquid on a solid is not a simple process, owing to the nature of the contact between the two phases. Setting a liquid droplet in motion requires non-negligible forces (because the contact-angle hysteresis generates a force opposing the motion1), and often results in the deposition of liquid behind the drop. Different methods of levitation—electrostatic, electromagnetic, acoustic2, or even simpler aerodynamic2,3 techniques—have been proposed to avoid this wetting problem, but all have proved to be rather cumbersome. Here we propose a simple alternative, which consists of encapsulating an aqueous liquid droplet with a hydrophobic powder. The resulting ‘liquid marbles’ are found to behave like a soft solid, and show dramatically reduced adhesion to a solid surface. As a result, motion can be generated using gravitational, electrical and magnetic fields. Moreover, because the viscous friction associated with motion is very small4, we can achieve quick displacements of the droplets without any leaks. All of these features are of potential benefit in microfluidic applications, and also permit the study of a drop in a non-wetting situation—an issue of renewed interest following the recent achievement of super-hydrophobic substrates5.
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We thank J. Bico and D. Richard for silanization of lycopodium grains and the achievement of a first series of liquid marbles, C. Clanet for help with high-speed pictures and for discussions, and P.-G. de Gennes for discussions and encouragement.
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