Ultra-liquid-repellent surfaces for anti-biofouling applications

   Department of Mechanical Engineering

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  Dr N Gao  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

This EPSRC project aims to gain an in-depth understanding of wetting and adhesion for anti-biofouling surfaces relevant for biomedical devices. ‘Wetting’ refers to how a liquid deposited on a surface spreads out. The phenomena of wetting are governed by interfacial tension and surface structure. In the case of droplets of liquid on a non-wettable surface, the droplets can form a roughly spherical shape, exhibiting a contact angle approaching 180 degrees. This allows droplets that are in contact with a liquid repellent surface to slide/roll off easily and remove surface contamination. By contrast, droplets will spread spontaneously on fully wettable solid surfaces to form a thin film.

Recent advances in wetting-based applications have demonstrated that surfaces with extreme liquid repellence have great potential to facilitate anti-biofouling properties. Design and application of surfaces with improved durability and anti-biofouling properties whereby wetting and adhesion behaviours can be manipulated will be carried out in this project.

Firstly, the PhD candidate will use state-of-the-art fabrication techniques to prepare various liquid repellent surfaces. This will allow one to compare and optimise the liquid repellence of the fabricated surface patterns, and thereby, prevent the impalement of the liquid into the fabricated surface structure in order to avoid contamination and corrosion. Specifically, the PhD candidate will investigate the wetting and adhesion behaviours of complex liquids to facilitate the development of ultra-liquid-repellent surfaces. Where applicable, the candidate will assess the impact of surface defects before and after interactions with the contaminating liquids. This is to improve the inherent antifouling properties by reducing surface-associated biofilm growth resulting from surface defects. Understanding how liquid repellence varies is key to enabling researchers to design robust anti-biofouling surfaces that can be used on biomedical devices with internal surfaces (such as catheters and colostomy bags) and medical-grade metals against aggressive contamination and corrosion.

Chemistry (6) Engineering (12) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

A fully funded (stipend+fees) PhD studentship is available for UK home students. The project will be held at Dr Nan Gao’s group in the School of Engineering at the University of Birmingham. The candidate will have at least a 2:1 class degree in Mechanical Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Materials Science or other relevant discipline.


Geyer, F., D’Acunzi, M., Sharifi-Aghili, A., Saal, A., Gao, N., Kaltbeitzel, A., Sloot, T.F., Berger, R., Butt, H.J. and Vollmer, D., 2020. When and how self-cleaning of superhydrophobic surfaces works. Science advances, 6(3), p.eaaw9727.
Gao, N., Geyer, F., Pilat, D.W., Wooh, S., Vollmer, D., Butt, H.J. and Berger, R., 2018. How drops start sliding over solid surfaces. Nature Physics, 14(2), pp.191-196.
Butt, H.J., Gao, N., Papadopoulos, P., Steffen, W., Kappl, M. and Berger, R., 2017. Energy dissipation of moving drops on superhydrophobic and superoleophobic surfaces. Langmuir, 33(1), pp.107-116.

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