There are many ways to repel droplets from a surface: water droplets will bounce off superhydrophobic surfaces due to their nanoscale structures; a vibrating liquid pool can keep droplets bouncing thanks to its deformation and a thin air layer trapped under the drop; and heated surfaces can repel droplets with the Leidenfrost effect by vaporizing a layer of liquid beneath the droplet. But all of these methods will only work for certain liquids under specific circumstances.
More recently, researchers have begun looking at a different way to repel droplets: moving the surface. The motion of the plate drags a layer of air with it; how thick that layer of air is depends on the plate’s speed. (Faster plates make thinner air layers.) Above a critical plate speed, a falling droplet will impact without touching the plate directly and will rebound completely. This works for many kinds of liquids – the researchers used silicone oil, water, and ethanol – across many droplet sizes and speeds. The key is that the air dragged by the plate deforms the droplet and creates a lift force. If that lift force is greater than the inertia of the droplet, it bounces. (Image and research credit: A. Gauthier et al., source)