Polymer Engineering Faculty Research

Surface-Induced Patterns from Evaporating Droplets of Aqueous Carbon Nanotube Dispersions

Younjin Min, The University of Akron


Evaporation of aqueous droplets of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) coated with a physisorbed layer of humic acid (HA) on a partially hydrophilic substrate induces the formation of a film of CNTs. Here, we investigate the role that the global geometry of the substrate surfaces has on the structure of the CNT film. On a flat mica or silica surface, the evaporation of a convex droplet of the CNT dispersion induces the well-known “coffee ring”, while evaporation of a concave droplet (capillary meniscus) of the CNT dispersion in a wedge of two planar mica sheets or between two crossed-cylinder sheets induces a large area (>mm2) of textured or patterned films characterized by different short- and long-range orientational and positional ordering of the CNTs. The resulting patterns appear to be determined by two competing or cooperative sedimentation mechanisms: (1) capillary forces between CNTs giving micrometer-sized filaments parallel to the boundary line of the evaporating droplet and (2) fingering instability at the boundary line of the evaporating droplet and subsequent pinning of CNTs on the surface giving micrometer-sized filaments of CNTs perpendicular to this boundary line. The interplay between substrate surface geometry and sedimentation mechanisms gives an extra control parameter for manipulating patterns of self-assembling nanoparticles at substrate surfaces.