Droplets move over viscoelastic substrates by surfing a ridge

Karpitschka S., Das S., van Gorcum M., Perrin H., Andreotti B. & Snoeijer J.H., Nature Comm., 6, 7891, (2015)

Liquid drops on soft solids generate strong deformations below the contact line, resulting from a balance of capillary and elastic forces. The movement of these drops may cause strong, potentially singular dissipation in the soft solid. Here we show that a drop on a soft substrate moves by surfing a ridge : the initially flat solid surface is deformed into a sharp ridge whose orientation angle depends on the contact line velocity. We measure this angle for water on a silicone gel and develop a theory based on the substrate rheology. We quantitatively recover the dynamic contact angle and provide a mechanism for stick–slip motion when a drop is forced strongly : the contact line depins and slides down the wetting ridge, forming a new one after a transient. We anticipate that our theory will have implications in problems such as self-organization of cell tissues or the design of capillarity-based microrheometers.

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