Shaping Liquids, Controlling Surfaces

27 February 2013

On Thursday 21 February Professor Glen McHale, executive dean of faculty and professor of applied and materials physics at Northumbria University, gave a talk on superhydrophobic surfaces.

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Such surfaces are highly hydrophobic, i.e., extremely difficult to wet. The analogy of ´water off a ducks back´ was given.

The professor showed how by making a surface with many points close together, a droplet of water will remain a droplet on the surface and will run off the surface with extreme ease.  The comparison with how a balloon can be pressed on a bed of nails and not explode was made.

Professor McHale then showed how these specially prepared surfaces could be used to make objects travel through water with greater ease. This could have applications in shipping by reducing drag.

The lecture was enlivened by good use of props and videos and the speaker provided a good overview of his research and future directions:

“I never imagined that studying how some insects skate across the surface of a pond, dive below its surface and breathe underwater without the need for gills would lead me to studying how ships and boats might be made faster and more efficient and glass and plastic in optics can be replaced by liquids - but that is what being a scientist is all about and why it is so exciting”.