Energy stored in nanoscale water capillary bridges formed between chemically heterogeneous surfaces with circular patches*
BZ Tang and XJ Yu and SV Buldyrev and N Giovambattista and LM Xu, CHINESE PHYSICS B, 29, 114703 (2020).
The formation of nanoscale water capillary bridges (WCBs) between chemically heterogeneous (patchy) surfaces plays an important role in different scientific and engineering applications, including nanolithography, colloidal aggregation, and bioinspired adhesion. However, the properties of WCB of nanoscale dimensions remain unclear. Using molecular dynamics simulations, we investigate the geometrical and thermodynamic properties of WCB confined between chemically heterogeneous surfaces composed of circular hydrophilic patches on a hydrophobic background. We find that macroscopic capillary theory provides a good description of the WCB geometry and forces induced by the WCB on the confining surfaces even in the case of surface patches with diameters of only 4 nm. Upon stretching, the WCB contact angle changes from hydrophobic-like values (theta > 90 degrees) to hydrophilic-like values (theta < 90 degrees) until it finally breaks down into two droplets at wall separations of similar to 9-10 nm. We also show that the studied nanoscale WCB can be used to store relevant amounts of energy E-P and explore how the walls patch geometry can be improved in order to maximize E-P. Our findings show that nanoscale WCB can, in principle, be exploited for the design of clean energy storage devices as well as actuators that respond to changes in relative humidity. The present results can also be of crucial importance for the understanding of water transport in nanoporous media and nanoscale engineering systems.
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