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Displays made of water and air!

Posted: 25 Jun 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:displays  superhydrophobic  air  water  reflective display 

Believe it or not, but water and air can be actually used to store information and even create displays. Researchers at Aalto University in Finland, University of Cambridge and Nokia Research Centre Cambridge have come up with a unique concept of writing and displaying information on surfaces using simply water.

The researchers exploit the unique way a trapped layer of air behaves on a lotus-inspired dual-structured water-repelling surface immersed under water.

To achieve the extreme water-repellency of the lotus leaf, a surface needs to be superhydrophobic: it must have microscopic surface structures that prevent water from wetting the surface completely, leaving a thin layer of air between water and the surface. When such a surface is immersed in water, a trapped air layer covers the entire surface.

The team fabricated a surface with structures in two size scales: microposts that have a size of ten micrometers and tiny nanofilaments that are grown on the posts. On such a two-level surface the air layer can exist in two different shapes (wetting states) that correspond to the two size scales.

They found that one can easily switch between the two states locally using a nozzle to create over- or underpressure in the water, in order to change the air layer to either state.

"The minimal energy needed to switch between the states means the system is bistable, which is the essential property of memory devices, for example," said Dr. Robin Das of Aalto University, who also led the research.

However, there is a feature that makes it all the more interesting: there is a striking optical contrast between the states due to a change in the roughness of the water-air interface.

"Combined with the optical effect, the surface is also a bistable reflective display."

"This result represents the first step in making non-wettable surfaces a platform for storing or even processing information."

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