Thickness-dependent fast wetting transitions due to the atomic layer deposition of zinc oxide on a micro-pillared surface†
Smart surfaces promote the fundamental understanding of wetting and are widely used in practical applications for energy and water collection. Light-induced switchable wettability facilitated by ZnO coatings, for instance, was developed for liquid manipulation at the surface. However, the transition of wetting states was reported to follow a hydrophobic–hydrophilic cycle in an hour, which is very long and may limit its future applications. We recently discovered that the cycle of the wetting state transitions on inorganic coatings can be shortened to less than 100 seconds by using ALD-coated ZnO on a pillared surface. However, the mechanisms are still unclear. Here, we investigated the effects of coating thickness on the transition speed and found that it significantly depended on the thickness of the coating with the optimal thickness less than 50 nm. We found that the minimum critical time for a wetting state transition cycle was less than 50 seconds with a thickness of 40 nm. Although the transition time of surfaces with coatings over 70 nm thickness remained constant at 10 min for a cycle, it was shorter than those of other deposition techniques for a coarse surface. Here, we propose a “penetration–diffusion” model to explain the fast and thickness-dependent wetting transitions. Our study may provide a new paradigm for fast wetting transition surfaces with cycle time within tens of seconds using a homogeneous thin layer coated on a rough surface.