Imaging the air-water interface: Characterising biomimetic and natural hydrophobic surfaces using in situ atomic force microscopy

Aaron Elbourne, Madeleine F. Dupont, Simon Collett, Vi Khanh Truong, Xiu Mei Xu, Nandi Vrancken, Vladimir Baulin, Elena P. Ivanova, Russell J. Crawford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The interface between water and a textured hydrophobic surface can exist in two regimes; either the Wenzel (surface-engulfed) or Cassie-Baxter (water-suspended) state. Better understanding of the influence of pattern geometry and spacing is crucial for the design of functional (super)hydrophobic surfaces, as inspired by numerous examples in nature. In this work, we have employed amplitude modulated – atomic force microscopy to visualize the air-water interface with an unprecedented degree of clarity on a superhydrophobic and a highly hydrophobic nanostructured surface. The images obtained provide the first real-time experimental visualization of the Cassie-Baxter wetting on the surface of biomimetic silicon nanopillars and a naturally superhydrophobic cicada wing. For both surfaces, the air-water interface was found to be remarkably well-defined, revealing a distinctly nanostructured air-water interface in the interstitial spacing. The degree of interfacial texture differed as a function of surface geometry. These results reveal that the air-water interface is heterogeneous in its structure and confirmed the presence of short–range interfacial ordering. Additionally, the overpressure values for each point on the interface were calculated, quantifying the difference in wetting behavior for the biomimetic and natural surface. Results suggest that highly-ordered, closely spaced nanofeatures facilitate robust Cassie-Baxter wetting states and therefore, can enhance the stability of (super)hydrophobic surfaces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-371
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Colloid and Interface Science
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Air-water interface
  • Hydrophobicity
  • Nanomaterials
  • Nanostructured surfaces
  • Superhydrophobicity


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