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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S029966/1
Title: CBET-EPSRC Dynamic Wetting & Interfacial Transitions in Three Dimensions: Theory vs Experiment
Principal Investigator: Sprittles, Professor JE
Other Investigators:
Lockerby, Professor DA Castrejon-Pita, Professor AA
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
3M (Global) Sandia National Laboratory Trijet Limited
University of Minnesota
Department: Mathematics
Organisation: University of Warwick
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 October 2019 Ends: 31 March 2023 Value (£): 539,280
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Continuum Mechanics Fluid Dynamics
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
09 Apr 2019 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 9 and 10 April 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form


The spreading of liquids over solid objects is a familiar and every day occurrence. For example: raindrops smashing into windscreens; stones being thrown into ponds; a chocolate fountain coating a strawberry. In all these cases, there is a maximum speed at which the liquid can traverse (or 'wet') the object and going beyond this speed creates easily observable effects such as the the disintegration of the raindrop into smaller drops or a patchy coating of the strawberry. Remarkably, despite the seemingly innocuous nature of these everyday phenomena, at present there exists no theory or computational model capable of predicting, and hence controlling, the maximum speed of wetting.

In addition to the academic curiosity of these events, they form the basis of a remarkable array of technological applications and natural processes. In particular, the coating of thin layers of liquid which subsequently solidify is a ~$100 billion (and ever-increasing) market which is key to the manufacture of products ranging from solar cells, to alleviate energy and environmental crises, to emerging capabilities to print electronic circuits. In these industries, an ability to create optimal designs is currently limited by our knowledge of the underlying physics.

This project will underpin exploration of the aforementioned phenomena and innovation within industry by exploiting a synergy between computational models embedded within software and cutting-edge experimental analysis. The computational and experimental aspects are particularly ambitious as (a) the wetting of solids is a strongly multiscale problem, requiring resolution from almost-molecular scales right up to engineering application scales, and (b) the process is inherently three-dimensional, meaning that simplifications leading to reductions in computational complexity are impossible and high performance computing techniques must be implemented. This project exploits recent advances in (a), by the Investigators, in order to tackle the problems associated with (b) for the very first time.

New knowledge of how liquids spread over solid surfaces will be initially focussed on industrial coating problems, where the challenge is to wet a solid with a liquid as fast as possible without entraining air. Initial progress will be guided and enhanced by a collaboration with 3M (famous for products such as Post-it and Scotchgard), a multinational corporation with ~$30 billion sales annually from manufacturing solar cells, paints, anti-reflective coatings, adhesives, etc. For them, a computational model provides a fast and cost-effective way to achieve understanding of the physical mechanisms at play in order to optimise the coating process.

Breakthroughs achieved in this project will have impact within related fields of research. Within industry, this involves working with Trijet, a leading consulting firm on emerging drop-based technologies, who will translate our advances to improve the control of inkjet printing technologies that are being used in everyday applications of fluids, e.g. in the automotive industries and in the printing of high-value metallic inks such as silver for printed electronics. Furthermore, our advances could have impact in other fields, such as climate science, where similar flow structures are observed when a liquid drop impacts a bath of the same liquid, as occurs when a raindrop impacts the ocean. Here, our understanding of how trapped gas between the drop and the ocean is entrained into the latter could feed into climate models, where this is a key parameter.

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Organisation Website: http://www.warwick.ac.uk