Dip Coating

Imagine dipping a rod into a liquid mixture filled with particles. When you pull the rod out, do particles stick to it? The answer depends on the relative importance of two sets of forces: the viscous drag as you lift the rod and adhesive power of surface tension. Scientists express this as a dimensionless ratio known as the capillary number.

When the capillary number is small, viscous drag dominates, and any particles that try to stick to the rod get pulled away (upper left). But as you increase the capillary number, surface tension helps particles clump together and stick to the rod (lower left and right). If the surface tension forces are strong enough – meaning that the capillary number is high –  you can actually get multiple layers of particles adhering to the dipped surface. (Image and research credit: E. Dressaire et al.)

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