Research

Making Drops Stick

A droplet impacts a surface, squishes, then attempts to rebound but remains connected to the surface

As you may have noticed when washing vegetables, many plants have superhydrophobic leaves. Water just beads up on their surface and slides right off. This is a useful feature for plants that want to direct that water toward their roots, but it’s a frustration in agriculture, where that superhydrophobicity means extra spraying of pesticides in order to get enough to stick to the plant.

But that may not be the case for much longer. Researchers have found that adding a little polymer to water droplets (right) can suppress their ability to rebound (left) from superhydrophobic surfaces. Above a critical concentration, the high shear rate of the droplet as it tries to detach activates the viscoelastic properties of the polymer. That viscoelasticity suppresses the rebound, keeping the droplet attached. That’s good news for everyone, since it means less spraying is needed to protect crops. (Image and research credit: P. Dhar et al.)

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