Dynamical insights into the mechanism of a droplet detachment from a fiber†
Quantifying the detachment behavior of a droplet from a fiber is important in many applications such as fog harvesting, oil–water separation, or water management in fuel cells. When the droplets are forcibly removed from hydrophilic fibers, the ease of detachment strongly depends on droplet volume and the rate of the process controlled by the applied force. Experiments, conducted on a ferrofluid under magnetic force, as well as continuum level calculations from fluid mechanics have so far been unable to resolve the time-dependent dynamics of droplet detachment and, most importantly, to assess the role of the applied force as the key determinant of the volume of the droplet residue remaining on the fiber after detachment. In the present work, we study the mechanism of water droplet detachment and retention of residual water on smooth hydrophilic fibers using nonequilibrium molecular dynamics simulations. We investigate how the applied force affects the breakup of a droplet and how the minimal detaching force per unit mass decreases with droplet size. We extract scaling relations that allow extrapolation of our findings to larger length scales that are not directly accessible by molecular models. We find that the volume of the residue on a fiber varies nonmonotonically with the detaching force, reaching the maximal size at an intermediate force and associated detachment time. The strength of this force decreases with the size of the drop, while the maximal residue increases with the droplet volume, V, sub-linearly, in proportion to the V2/3.