Universal contact-line dynamics at the nanoscale
The relaxation dynamics of the contact angle between a viscous liquid and a smooth substrate is studied at the nanoscale. Through atomic force microscopy measurements of polystyrene nanostripes we simultaneously monitor both the temporal evolution of the liquid–air interface and the position of the contact line. The initial configuration exhibits high curvature gradients and a non-equilibrium contact angle that drive liquid flow. Both these conditions are relaxed to achieve the final state, leading to three successive regimes in time: (i) stationary contact line levelling; (ii) receding contact line dewetting; (iii) collapse of the two fronts. For the first regime, we reveal the existence of a self-similar evolution of the liquid interface, which is in excellent agreement with numerical calculations from a lubrication model. For different liquid viscosities and film thicknesses we provide evidence for a transition to dewetting featuring a universal critical contact angle and dimensionless time.