A unified description of hydrophilic and superhydrophobic surfaces in terms of the wetting and drying transitions of liquids
Clarifying the factors that control the contact angle of a liquid on a solid substrate is a long-standing scientific problem pertinent across physics, chemistry and materials science. Progress has been hampered by the lack of a comprehensive and unified understanding of the physics of wetting and drying phase transitions. Using various theoretical and simulational techniques applied to realistic fluid models, we elucidate how the character of these transitions depends sensitively on both the range of fluid-fluid and substrate-fluid interactions and the temperature. Our calculations uncover previously unrecognised classes of surface phase diagram which differ from that established for simple lattice models and often assumed to be universal. The differences relate both to the topology of the phase diagram and to the nature of the transitions, with a remarkable feature being a difference between drying and wetting transitions which persists even in the approach to the bulk critical point. Most experimental and simulational studies of liquids at a substrate belong to one of these previously unrecognised classes. We predict that while there appears to be nothing particularly special about water with regard to its wetting and drying behavior, superhydrophobic behavior should be more readily observable in experiments conducted at high temperatures than at room temperature.