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Furcated droplet motility on crystalline surfaces

Abstract

Directed liquid motion has been conventionally mediated by functionalizing chemical inhomogeneity or texturing topological anisotropy on target surfaces. Here we show the self-propulsion of droplets that furcated in well-defined directions on piezoelectric single crystals in the absence of any apparent asymmetry or external force. By selecting the crystal plane to interface with the droplets, the thermoelastic–piezoelectric interplay yields intricate electric potential profiles, enabling various forms of self-propulsion including unidirectional, bifurcated and trifurcated. This effect originates from an anisotropic crystalline structure that generates contrasting macroscopic liquid behaviours and is observed with cold/hot and volatile droplets. Intrinsically oriented liquid motions have broad applicability in processes ranging from soft matter engineering, autonomous material delivery and thermal management to biochemical analysis.

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Fig. 1: Furcated droplets self-propulsion.
Fig. 2: Thermo-piezoelectric coupling.
Fig. 3: Dynamics of self-propulsion.
Fig. 4: Evaporation-driven self-propulsion.

Data availability

The data that support the findings reported in this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

We thank W.-D. Li and S.-P. Feng for equipment support, Y. Chen and H. Yu for valuable discussion and Z. Zhou for assistance in the experiment. L.W. acknowledges financial support from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong (grant nos. GRF 17205421, 17204420, 17210319, 17204718 and CRF C1006-20WF, C1018-17G). X.T. acknowledges support from the Research Grants Council Postdoctoral Fellowship Scheme. This work was also supported in part by the Zhejiang Provincial, Hangzhou Municipal and Lin’an County governments.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

X.T. and L.W. conceived and designed the project. X.T. performed the experiments to which W.L. also contributed. X.T. and L.W. analysed the data and wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Liqiu Wang.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Nanotechnology thanks Evelyn Wang and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–18, Notes 1–4 and Tables 1 and 2.

Supplementary Video 1

Side view of droplet states on Si and LiNbO3 crystal surface.

Supplementary Video 2

Bottom view of unidirectional self-propulsion of droplets on \((01\bar 1\bar 1)\) LiNbO3.

Supplementary Video 3

Bottom view of bifurcated self-propulsion of droplets on \((10\bar 1\bar 1)\) LiNbO3.

Supplementary Video 4

Bottom view of trifurcated self-propulsion of droplets on (0001) LiNbO3.

Supplementary Video 5

Side view of spontaneous self-propulsion on different crystal planes.

Supplementary Video 6

Side view of droplet ascending uphill.

Supplementary Video 7

Side view of evaporation-driven continuous self-propulsion of organic solvents.

Supplementary Video 8

Bottom view of shape evolution of diethyl ether droplets on different crystal planes.

Supplementary Video 9

Bottom view of droplet self-navigation on LiNbO3 tiles.

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Tang, X., Li, W. & Wang, L. Furcated droplet motility on crystalline surfaces. Nat. Nanotechnol. 16, 1106–1112 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-021-00945-w

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