Splitting droplets through coalescence of two different three-phase contact lines†
Moving contact lines of more than two phases dictate a large number of interfacial phenomena. Despite their significance in fundamental and applied processes, the contact lines at a junction of four-phases (two immiscible liquids, a solid and gas) have been addressed only in a few investigations. Here, we report an intriguing phenomenon that follows after the four phases oil, water, solid and gas make contact through the coalescence of two different three-phase contact lines. We combine experimental studies and theoretical analyses to reveal and rationalize the dynamics exhibited upon the coalescence between the contact line of a micron-sized oil droplet and the receding contact line of a millimeter-sized water drop that covers the oil droplet on the substrate. We find that after the coalescence a four-phase contact line is formed for a brief period. However this quadruple contact line is not stable, leading to a ‘droplet splitting’ effect and eventually expulsion of the oil droplet from the water drop. We then show that the interfacial tension between the different phases and the viscosity of the oil droplet dictate the splitting dynamics. More viscous oils display higher resistance to the extreme deformations of the droplet induced by the instability of the quadruple contact line and no droplet expulsion is observed in such cases.