Electric field and gradient microstructure for cooperative driving of directional motion of underwater oil droplets

Dongliang Tian, Linlin He, Na Zhang, Xi Zheng, Yuhai Dou, Xiaofang Zhang, Zhenyan Guo, Lei Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Driving a liquid droplet with control of directional motion on a solid surface, by introducing a surface wettability gradient or external stimuli, has attracted considerable research attention. There still remain challenges, however, due to the slow response rate and slow speed of continuous liquid droplet motion on the structured surface. Here, an approach to continuously drive the underwater oil droplet with control of directional motion by the cooperative effects of an electric field and the gradient of a porous polystyrene microstructure is demonstrated. The gradient microstructure induces the liquid droplet to take on an asymmetrical shape, causing unbalanced pressure on both ends to orient the droplet for motion in a particular direction. Meanwhile, the electric field decreases the contact area and the corresponding viscous drag between the droplet and the gradient-structured surface. Then, the unbalanced pressure pushes the underwater oil droplet to move directionally and continuously at a certain voltage. This work provides a new strategy to control underwater oil droplets and realize unidirectional motion. It is also promising for the design of new smart interface materials for applications such as electrofluidic displays, biological cell and particle manipulation, and other types of microfluidic devices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7986-7992
Number of pages7
JournalAdvanced Functional Materials
Issue number44
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • directional motion
  • electric fields
  • gradient porous structures
  • polystyrene films
  • underwater oil

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