- by Alessio Meggiolaro
Trifurcated Splitting of Water Droplets on Engineered Lithium Niobate Surfaces
S. Cremaschini, A. Cattelan, D. Ferraro, D. Filippi, F. Marinello, A. Meggiolaro, M. Pierno, C. Sada, A. Zaltron, P. Umari, G. Mistura
ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2024
Controlled splitting of liquid droplets is a key function in many microfluidic applications. In recent years, various methodologies have been used to accomplish this task. Here, we present an optofluidic technique based on an engineered surface formed by coating a z-cut iron-doped lithium niobate crystal with a lubricant-infused layer, which provides a very slippery surface. Illuminating the crystal with a light spot induces surface charges of opposite signs on the two crystal faces because of the photovoltaic effect. If the light spot is sufficiently intense, millimetric water droplets placed near the illuminated spot split into two charged fragments, one fragment being trapped by the bright spot and the other moving away from it. The latter fragment does not move randomly but rather follows one of three well-defined trajectories separated by 120°, which reflect the anisotropic crystalline structure of Fe:LiNbO3. Numerical simulations explain the behavior of water droplets in the framework of the forces induced by the interplay of pyroelectric, piezoelectric, and photovoltaic effects, which originate simultaneously inside the illuminated crystal. Such a synergetic effect can provide a valuable feature in applications that require splitting and coalescence of droplets, such as chemical microreactors and biological encapsulation and screening.