Chemical and morphological traits of natural substrates that can propel and transport fluids over their surfaces have long provided inspiration for the engineering of artificial materials that can harvest and collect water from aerial humidity. Here we report that the gradual widening of parallel microchannels on a surface of a slowly subliming hexachlorobenzene crystal can promote the autonomous and bidirectional transduction of condensed aerial water. Driven by topology changes on the surface of the crystal and water exchange with the gas phase, droplets of condensed water migrate over the crystal. These droplets are also able to transport silver particles and other particulate matter, such as dust. The velocity of the particles was shown to be dependent on both the sublimation rate of the crystal and the relative humidity of its environment. This example of a sublimation-powered water flow demonstrates that topological surface changes accompanying crystal phase transitions can be harnessed to transport liquid and solid matter over surfaces.
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Unprocessed images and raw data have been uploaded to the data repository site Zenodo at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7457189. Source data are provided with this paper.
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We thank New York University Abu Dhabi for the financial support of this work. We also thank Q. Zhang for help with printing the model surfaces. This research was partially carried out using the Core Technology Platform resources at New York University Abu Dhabi.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Supplementary Note 1, Figs. 1–13 and Tables 1–8.
Greyscale brightfield optical microscopy of dust particles moving on the (001) plane of an HCB crystal over 670 min. Images were acquired once every 10 min. The dimensions of the video are 616 μm × 416 μm.
Greyscale brightfield optical microscopy of AgMP 1–7 moving on the (001) plane of an HCB crystal over 800 min. Images were acquired once every 10 min. The dimensions of the video are 306 μm × 281 μm.
Greyscale brightfield optical microscopy of water moving downward though an HCB channel. Images were acquired once every 10 min. The dimensions of the video are 92 μm × 60 μm.
Optical images of a drop of water placed onto the (001) surface of an HCB crystal. The video is played in real time. The dimensions of the video are 2.87 mm × 1.55 mm.
Optical video of a drop of water placed onto the (001) surface of a prismatic HCB crystal. This crystal habit does not have channels on its (001) surface. The video is played at 10× speed and the drop is monitored for 3.5 min. The dimensions of the video are 2.87 mm × 1.55 mm.
Two-dimensional AFM images of the (001) face of the crystal monitored at 21 °C and 55% relative humidity for 27.5 h.
Two-dimensional AFM images of the (001) face of the crystal monitored at 21 °C and 55% relative humidity for 27.5 h to measure the rate of sublimation.
Greyscale brightfield optical microscopy of AgMPs a–ab moving on the (001) plane of an HCB crystal at 22.2–22.9, 27.9–36.0, 31.3–40.5 and 36.0–41.0 °C. Images were acquired once every 10 min.
Greyscale brightfield optical microscopy of AgNP 8–14 moving on the (001) plane of an HCB crystal at 34.73–41.49 °C over 1,000 min. Images were acquired once every 10 min. The dimensions of the video are 140 μm × 47 μm.
Greyscale brightfield optical microscopy of AgNP 14 being pushed by a water meniscus. Images were acquired once every 10 min. The dimensions of the video are 32 μm × 22 μm.
Greyscale brightfield optical microscopy of AgMP on the (001) plane of an HCB crystal under desiccation (~0% relative humidity) and under LiCl (saturated), CH3COOK (saturated), ambient and NaCl atmospheres (11, 22, 55 and 75% relative humidity, respectively) at 21 °C. The images were acquired over 1,000 min. The video is played at 30 frames per second and each image was acquired in 10-min intervals. The dimensions of the image in the video are 244 μm × 244 μm, 254 μm × 254 μm, 219 μm × 219 μm, 265 μm × 265 μm and 265 μm × 265 μm, respectively.
Greyscale brightfield optical microscopy of AgMPs tracked on the (001) plane of an HCB crystal under a methanol atmosphere. Particle movement was not observed. The dimensions of the video are 52 μm × 52 μm.
Greyscale brightfield optical microscopy of AgMP on the (001) plane of an HCB while being desiccated for 2,000 min and then rehydrated at 44% relative humidity for 1,000 min. A particle is being pulled by the receding water meniscus under desiccation and pushed by the advancing meniscus when rehydrated. The dimensions of the image in the video when the sample is being desiccated are 114 μm × 114 μm and when it is being rehydrated they are 112 μm × 112 μm. The video is played at 30 frames per second and each image was acquired in 10-min intervals.
Optical microscopy of a nanoscribed HCB simulated surface with AgNP on the surface being carried by evaporating water. The channels are 3 μm wide and 1 μm deep. The object is 1 mm long and 250 μm wide.
Source Data Fig. 1
Particle tracking data.
Source Data Fig. 2
AFM height map analysis.
Source Data Fig. 3
Particle tracking analysis at controlled temperatures and humidities.
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Commins, P., Al-Handawi, M.B., Rezgui, R. et al. Autonomous and directional flow of water and transport of particles across a subliming dynamic crystal surface. Nat. Chem. (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41557-023-01158-5