Exploiting breath figure reversibility for in situ pattern modulation and hierarchical design†
The breath figure (BF) method employs condensation droplets as dynamic templates for patterning polymer films. In the classical approach, dropwise condensation and film solidification are simultaneously induced through solvent evaporation, leading to empirically derived patterns with limited predictability of the final design. Here we use the temporally arrested BF methodology, controlling condensation and polymerisation independently to create diverse BF patterns with varied pore size, arrangement and distribution. External temperature control enables us to further investigate and exploit the inherent reversibility of the phase change process that governs the pattern formation. We modulate the level of subcooling and superheating to achieve subsequent regimes of condensation and evaporation, permitting in situ regulation of the droplet growth and shrinkage kinetics. The full reversibility of the phase change processes joined with active photopolymerisation in the current approach thus allows arresting of predictable BF kinetics at intermediate stages, thereby accessing patterns with varied pore size and spacing for unchanged material properties and environmental conditions. This simultaneous active control over both the kinetics of phase change and polymer solidification offers affordable routes for the fabrication of diverse predictable porous surfaces; manufacture of monolithic hierarchical BF patterns are ultimately facilitated through the advanced control of the BF assembly using the method presented here.