Understanding slip and designing new slippery surfaces


Investigation of the properties of surfaces that affect the slip of liquids at solid interface, with the potential to develop more energy-efficient microfluidic devices.


Associate Professor Chiara Neto

Research Location

School of Chemistry

Program Type



Overcoming the huge hydrodynamic resistance that slows down liquid flow in confined spaces is a technical and scientific challenge. The recent discovery by Neto of the occurrence of liquid slip at a solid boundary promises to solve this problem, fundamental in many fields, including microfluidics. In order to successfully harness liquid slip, we need to answer the questions: what interfacial properties control liquid slip on solid surfaces, and how?
      This project addresses this fundamental problem by identifying the nanoscale interfacial properties that make surfaces slippery. Problems of profound importance in pure and applied surface science will be addressed, and its results will dramatically affect many other research fields, such as microfluidics, confined biological systems, flow through porous rocks, and colloidal stability.
      This project relies on the ability to measure directly and with very high resolution interaction forces between surfaces using atomic force microscopy (AFM). Neto’s activity in this field for the past seven years has made her a recognised expert, and the project is already under way and clearly established. We will evaluate the ability of different surface treatments to enhance interfacial slip of liquids. For the preparation of the surfaces we will employ new and versatile treatments that controllably alter the surface roughness, compliance, wettability, and texture. Surfaces will be engineered to mimic real-world examples that present strong drag reduction, such as the skin of aquatic animals.
      The aim of the project is to understand how simple liquids can slip on solid surfaces, especially on real-world surfaces, such as rough, patterned, and soft surfaces that surround us; while investigating liquid slip, we will also gain a better understanding of soft surfaces coated with soft grafted polymer layers, and we will develop new methods to prepare slippery superhydrophobic surfaces in situ.

Additional Information

     The project primarily involves performing experiments and measuring surface forces with atomic force microscopy (AFM). Several surface characterisation techniques will be employed such as ellipsometry, contact angle goniometry, and grazing angle FTIR. The modification of solid surfaces using advanced surface coatings will be performed both in the lab and through external collaborations. A PhD scholarship might become available for high-calibre students with experience in interfacial physical chemistry.

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Physical chemistry, materials science, interfaces, Atomic force microscopy, direct measurement of forces, liquid slip, microfluidic devices, nanotechnology, surface-grafted polymers, nanostructured coatings, superhydrophobic surfaces.

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 556

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