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Dynamic Manipulation of Droplets on Liquid-Infused Surfaces Using Photoresponsive Surfactant.

ACS Central Science 2024 March 28
Fast and programmable transport of droplets on a substrate is desirable in microfluidic, thermal, biomedical, and energy devices. Photoresponsive surfactants are promising candidates to manipulate droplet motion due to their ability to modify interfacial tension and generate "photo-Marangoni" flow under light stimuli. Previous works have demonstrated photo-Marangoni droplet migration in liquid media; however, migration on other substrates, including solid and liquid-infused surfaces (LIS), remains an outstanding challenge. Moreover, models of photo-Marangoni migration are still needed to identify optimal photoswitches and assess the feasibility of new applications. In this work, we demonstrate 2D droplet motion on liquid surfaces and on LIS, as well as rectilinear motion in solid capillary tubes. We synthesize photoswitches based on spiropyran and merocyanine, capable of tension changes of up to 5.5 mN/m across time scales as short as 1.7 s. A millimeter-sized droplet migrates at up to 5.5 mm/s on a liquid, and 0.25 mm/s on LIS. We observe an optimal droplet size for fast migration, which we explain by developing a scaling model. The model also predicts that faster migration is enabled by surfactants that maximize the ratio between the tension change and the photoswitching time. To better understand migration on LIS, we visualize the droplet flow using tracer particles, and we develop corresponding numerical simulations, finding reasonable agreement. The methods and insights demonstrated in this study enable advances for manipulation of droplets for microfluidic, thermal and water harvesting devices.

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