Designing “Supermetalphobic” Surfaces that Greatly Repel Liquid Metal by Femtosecond Laser Processing


Liquid metal consists of alloys (particularly those of gallium) with very low melting points which form a eutectic that is liquid at room temperature. For instance, eutectic gallium–indium (EGaIn) has attracted increasing attention credit to its important potential applications in liquid robots and flexible circuits. Ideally, the fundamental technology for achieving these applications is to control the shape and adhesion of liquid metal and even obtain complex liquid metal patterns. Liquid metals, however possess liquid-like property and are therefore susceptible to adhere to a solid substrate due to the high adhesion between solid surface and liquid metal. Consequently, this makes the liquid metal difficult to control. In addition, liquid metal is very different from water in the aspect of hydrophilicity/hydrophobicity, no matter the chemical composition or the physical/mechanical property. Therefore, establishing a principle for endowing any materials with remarkable repellence to liquid metals has an extremely vital significance.

To date, the preparation of liquid metal-repellent surface by a simple and widely applicable way is really a great challenge in the field of liquid metal applications. Liquid metal possess high adhesion that make it very difficult to control the liquid metal shape and prepare fine liquid metal patterns. To address this, a team of researchers from the Xi’an Jiaotong University: Professor Jiale Yong, Dr. Chengjun Zhang, Dr. Xue Bai, Dr. Jingzhou Zhang, Professor Qing Yang, Professor Xun Hou, and Professor Feng Chen investigated the influence of the surface chemistry and microstructure on the wettability of a solid surface to liquid metal. Their goal was to demonstrated that the wettability of liquid metal on a substrate is very different from the water wettability. Their work is currently published in the research journal, Advanced Materials Interfaces.

In their approach, micro/nanoscale structures were prepared on the silicon and polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) surfaces by simple femtosecond laser (fsL) processing. After additional chemical modification/treatment, the researchers were able to obtain both superhydrophobic and superhydrophilic Si/PDMS surfaces. The researchers characterized the morphology of the fsL-ablated sample surfaces using various techniques.

The authors reported that all the obtained structured surfaces had excellent liquid metal repellence in spite of superhydrophobicity or superhydrophilicity. Indeed, the difference between liquid metal wettability and water wettability of a solid surface was revealed from the aspects of experimental comparison and contact model analysis, with water and liquid metal droplets on different substrates. The laser-induced surface microstructures are able to greatly reduce the adhesion between liquid metals and solid substrate. Such remarkable liquid metal-repellent property is defined as “supermetalphobicity”.

The supermetalphobic microstructure has many potential applications, such as reducing the adhesion at the interface of liquid metal and solid, controlling the shape of liquid metal, designing liquid metal pattern, etc. FsL pulses have the characteristics of extremely short pulse width and ultrahigh peak intensity, so fsL can process almost all of the known materials. Micro/nanoscale surface structure can be created on any substrates by direct fsL processing. Therefore, supermetalphobicity is potentially obtained on the surfaces of various materials after fsL processing.

In summary, the study demonstrated the influence of surface chemistry and microstructure on achieving supermetalphobicity. The results presented indicated that both the superhydrophilic and the superhydrophobic Si/PDMS surfaces had similar supermetalphobicity; that is, the supermetalphobicity did not depend on the superhydrophobicity or superhydrophilicity for a solid substrate. In a statement to Advances in Engineering, Professor Jiale Yong highlighted that they anticipated that the established principle for endowing any materials with remarkable repellence to liquid metals would have important significance, which will accelerate the application progress of liquid metal materials in flexible circuits and liquid robots.

Designing “Supermetalphobic” Surfaces that Greatly Repel Liquid Metal by Femtosecond Laser Processing - Advances in Engineering

About the author

Prof. Jiale Yong is currently an associate professor of Electronic Science and Technology at Xi’an Jiaotong University. He received his BS degree from Xi’an Jiaotong University in 2011. After that, he joined Prof. Chen’s research group and received a Ph.D. in Electronic Science and Technology from Xi’an Jiaotong University in 2016. Then, he started to work at Xi’an Jiaotong University.

His research interests include femtosecond laser microfabrication, controlling wettability of solid surfaces, and bioinspired designing superhydrophobic and superoleophobic interfaces.

About the author

Prof. Feng Chen is a full professor at the School of Electronics and Information Engineering at Xi’an Jiaotong University, where he directs the Femtosecond Laser Laboratory. He received a BS degree in physics from Sichuan University, China, in 1991, and then began to work for the Chinese Academy of Science (1991 to 2002), where he was promoted to a full professor in 1999. He received a Ph.D. in Optics from the Chinese Academy of Science in 1997. In 2002, he joined Xi’an Jiaotong University, where he became a group leader.

His current research interests are femtosecond laser microfabrication and bionic microfabrication.

About the author

Prof. Qing Yang received her BS degree in Photoelectron Science and Technology in 1992 from Sichuan University. In 2009, she received her Ph.D. from Xi’an Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics, Chinese Academy of Science. She is currently an associate professor at Xi’an Jiaotong University.

Her current research interests are femtosecond laser fine process, microfluidic biochips, and micro-photonics.



Jiale Yong, Chengjun Zhang, Xue Bai, Jingzhou Zhang, Qing Yang, Xun Hou, Feng Chen. Designing “Supermetalphobic” Surfaces that Greatly Repel Liquid Metal by Femtosecond Laser Processing: Does the Surface Chemistry or Microstructure Play a Crucial Role? Advanced Material Interfaces 2020, 7, 1901931.

Go To Advanced Material Interfaces

Check Also

A.I. Improves the Search for Next Generation Superhard Materials