Bioinspired one-dimensional materials for directional liquid transport

Jie Ju, Yongmei Zheng, Lei Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

161 Citations (Scopus)


Conspectus: One-dimensional materials (1D) capable of transporting liquid droplets directionally, such as spider silks and cactus spines, have recently been gathering scientists attention due to their potential applications in microfluidics, textile dyeing, filtration, and smog removal. This remarkable property comes from the arrangement of the micro- and nanostructures on these organisms surfaces, which have inspired chemists to develop methods to prepare surfaces with similar directional liquid transport ability. In this Account, we report our recent progress in understanding how this directional transport works, as well our advances in the design and fabrication of bioinspired 1D materials capable of transporting liquid droplets directionally.To begin, we first discuss some basic theories on droplet directional movement. Then, we discuss the mechanism of directional transport of water droplets on natural spider silks. Upon contact with water droplets, the spider silk undergoes what is known as a wet-rebuilt, which forms periodic spindle-knots and joints. We found that the resulting gradient of Laplace pressure and surface free energy between the spindle-knots and joints account for the cooperative driving forces to transport water droplets directionally. Next, we discuss the directional transport of water droplets on desert cactus. The integration of multilevel structures of the cactus and the resulting integration of multiple functions together allow the cactus spine to transport water droplets continuously from tip to base.Based on our studies of natural spider silks and cactus spines, we have prepared a series of artificial spider silks (A-SSs) and artificial cactus spines (A-CSs) with various methods. By changing the surface roughness and chemical compositions of the artificial spider silks spindle-knots, or by introducing stimulus-responsive molecules, such as thermal-responsive and photoresponsive molecules, onto the spindle-knots, we can reversibly manipulate the direction of water droplets movement on the prepared A-SSs. In addition, the A-SSs with nonuniform spindle-knots, such as multilevel sized spindle-knots and gradient spindle-knots, further demonstrate integrated directional transport ability for water droplets. Through mimicking the main principle of cactus spines in transporting water droplets, we were able to fabricate both single and array A-CSs, which are able to transport liquid droplets directionally both in air and under water.Lastly, we demonstrated some applications of this directional liquid transport, from aspects of efficient fog collection to oil/water separation. In addition, we showed some potential applications in smart catalysis, tracer substance enrichment, smog removal, and drug delivery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2342-2352
Number of pages11
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes

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