Slow spreading with a large contact angle on hygroscopic materials

E. Julien, S. M. Rubinstein, S. Caré, P. Coussot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Water transfer in wood plays a major role during the life time of timber structures but the physics of the various processes involved, such as wetting and imbibition, is not fully understood. Here we show that the angle of contact of a water drop placed in contact with an air dry wood surface is initially larger than 90°, then the drop slowly spreads over the surface, while the apparent (macroscopic) contact angle decreases down to a few tens of degrees. We show that similar results are obtained with a model material, i.e. hydrogel, as soon as a perturbation is induced onto the line of contact. We demonstrate that for the gel the initial large apparent contact angle results from a strong deformation of the gel in a thin softened region below the line of contact resulting from the fast diffusion of water and swelling of this region. This phenomenon ensures a real (local) contact angle close to zero. The spreading then results from the progressive diffusion of water at farther distance and successive perturbations of the line of contact when the drop enters in contact with small liquid droplets dispersed along the surface (residues of the chemical reaction during gel preparation). It is suggested that a similar effect occurs for the water drop over a wood surface and explains the large initial contact angle and slow spreading: the line of contact is initially pinned thanks to a wood surface deformation resulting from the wood surface swelling due to water absorption, thus leading to a large contact angle; it will then unpin when the local conditions have changed as a result of water diffusion at further distance, allowing for a small displacement up to the next pinning point and so on.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3475-3486
Number of pages12
JournalSoft Matter
Issue number19
StatePublished - 17 May 2023


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