Stabilization of Leidenfrost vapour layer by textured superhydrophobic surfaces


In 1756, Leidenfrost1 observed that water drops skittered on a sufficiently hot skillet, owing to levitation by an evaporative vapour film. Such films are stable only when the hot surface is above a critical temperature, and are a central phenomenon in boiling2. In this so-called Leidenfrost regime, the low thermal conductivity of the vapour layer inhibits heat transfer between the hot surface and the liquid. When the temperature of the cooling surface drops below the critical temperature, the vapour film collapses and the system enters a nucleate-boiling regime, which can result in vapour explosions that are particularly detrimental in certain contexts, such as in nuclear power plants3. The presence of these vapour films can also reduce liquid–solid drag4,5,6. Here we show how vapour film collapse can be completely suppressed at textured superhydrophobic surfaces. At a smooth hydrophobic surface, the vapour film still collapses on cooling, albeit at a reduced critical temperature, and the system switches explosively to nucleate boiling. In contrast, at textured, superhydrophobic surfaces, the vapour layer gradually relaxes until the surface is completely cooled, without exhibiting a nucleate-boiling phase. This result demonstrates that topological texture on superhydrophobic materials is critical in stabilizing the vapour layer and thus in controlling—by heat transfer—the liquid–gas phase transition at hot surfaces. This concept can potentially be applied to control other phase transitions, such as ice or frost formation7,8,9, and to the design of low-drag surfaces at which the vapour phase is stabilized in the grooves of textures without heating10.

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Figure 1: Surface topography and images of the superhydrophobic sphere.
Figure 2: High-speed camera snapshots of 20-mm steel spheres cooling in water.
Figure 3: Sphere temperature versus cooling time for 20-mm steel spheres held in water at 22 °C.
Figure 4: Surface temperature versus heat flux in heating experiments.


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We acknowledge the KAUST Machine Workshop, KAUST Electronics Workshop and G. D. Li for assistance in setting up the cooling and heating experiments, and L. Chen and B. Chew from KAUST Advanced Nanofabrication, Imaging and Characterization Core Lab facilities for assistance in AFM and SEM imaging characterization of the superhydrophobic coating.

Author information




I.U.V. conceived research and designed the experiments. I.U.V. and J.O.M. carried out the experiments. N.A.P., D.Y.C.C. and S.T.T. contributed with discussions, analysis and theoretical interpretation of the experimental results. I.U.V., D.Y.C.C. and N.A.P. wrote the manuscript. All authors edited the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Ivan U. Vakarelski or Neelesh A. Patankar.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Text, Supplementary references, Supplementary Figures 1-19 and full legends for Supplementary Movies 1-5. (PDF 3892 kb)

Cooling of a hydrophilic sphere

Cooling of a 20mm diameter hydrophilic sphere in 22°C water. (MOV 7312 kb)

Cooling of a hydrophobic sphere

Cooling of a 20mm diameter hydrophobic surface steel sphere in 22°C water. (MOV 2777 kb)

Cooling of a superhydrophobic sphere

Cooling of a 20mm diameter superhydrophobic surface steel sphere in 22°C water. (MOV 3979 kb)

Cooling of a hydrophilic and superhydrophobic sphere

Cooling of 20mm hydrophilic (left side) and superhydrophobic (right side) steel sphere in 100°C water. (MOV 8905 kb)

Cooling of a hydrophilic and superhydrophobic sphere

Cooling of 20mm hydrophilic (left side) and superhydrophobic (right side) steel sphere in 100°C water. (MOV 7046 kb)

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Vakarelski, I., Patankar, N., Marston, J. et al. Stabilization of Leidenfrost vapour layer by textured superhydrophobic surfaces. Nature 489, 274–277 (2012).

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