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Creating Invisible Oil Repellent Barriers to Contain Spills

Researchers have designed an invisible “wall” that stops oily liquids from spreading and confines them to a certain area.

The outer shell of a droplet of oil on a surface has a thin skin which allows it to hold its shape like a small dome, known as the liquid’s surface tension.

The new development, reported in the journal Langmuir, should help researchers studying the complex molecules and has future implications in the guided delivery of oil and effective blockage of oil spreading.

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“Our work is based on micro/nanoelectromechanical systems, or M/NEMS, which can be thought of as miniaturized electrical or mechanical structures that allow researchers to conduct their work on the micro/nanoscopic level,” says Jae Kwon, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Missouri.

“Oil-based materials or low-surface tension liquids, which can wet any surface and spread very easily, pose challenges to researchers who need to control those tiny oil droplets on microdevices.”

Oil-based compounds are referred to as low-surface tension liquids because they tend to spread on the surface of a researcher’s microscope slides or microarrays where the liquids are placed.

Also, as can be seen from oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, oil can stick and easily spread out on any surface.

Using specially designed oil-repellent surfaces, Kwon and his group demonstrated invisible “virtual walls” that block spreading of low-surface tension liquids at the boundary line with microscopic features already created in the device.

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“Our newly developed surface helped keep oil, which is normally unmanageable, in predetermined pathways making it controllable.

“We feel that oil-repellant surfaces can be widely utilized for many industrial applications, and virtual walls for low-surface tension liquids also have immense potential for many lab-on-a-chip devices which are crucial to current and future research techniques.”

In the future, oil-repellent virtual walls may be used to control the transport of oil without spillage, Kwon says.

By. Jeff Sossamon

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