Ambient-mediated wetting on smooth surfaces

Daniel Orejon, Junho Oh, Daniel J. Preston, Xiao Yan, Soumyadip Sett, Yasuyuki Takata, Nenad Miljkovic, Khellil Sefiane

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A consensus was built in the first half of the 20th century, which was further debated more than 3 decades ago, that the wettability and condensation mechanisms on smooth solid surfaces are modified by the adsorption of organic contaminants present in the environment. Recently, disagreement has formed about this topic once again, as many researchers have overlooked contamination due to its difficulty to eliminate. For example, the intrinsic wettability of rare earth oxides has been reported to be hydrophobic and non-wetting to water. These materials were subsequently shown to display dropwise condensation with steam. Nonetheless, follow on research has demonstrated that the intrinsic wettability of rare earth oxides is hydrophilic and wetting to water, and that a transition to hydrophobicity occurs in a matter of hours-to-days as a consequence of the adsorption of volatile organic compounds from the ambient environment. The adsorption mechanisms, kinetics, and selectivity, of these volatile organic compounds are empirically known to be functions of the substrate material and structure. However, these mechanisms, which govern the surface wettability, remain poorly understood. In this contribution, we introduce current research demonstrating the different intrinsic wettability of metals, rare earth oxides, and other smooth materials, showing that they are intrinsically hydrophilic. Then we provide details on research focusing on the transition from wetting (hydrophilicity) to non-wetting (hydrophobicity) on somooth surfaces due to adsorption of volatile organic compounds. A state-of-the-art figure of merit mapping the wettability of different smooth solid surfaces to ambient exposure as a function of the surface carbon content has also been developed. In addition, we analyse recent works that address these wetting transitions so to shed light on how such processes affect droplet pinning and lateral adhesion. We then conclude with objective perspectives about research on wetting to non-wetting transitions on smooth solid surfaces in an attempt to raise awareness regarding this surface contamination phenomenon within the engineering, interfacial science, and physical chemistry domains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103075
JournalAdvances in Colloid and Interface Science
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Adsorption
  • Atmosphere mediated wettability
  • Contact angle hysteresis
  • Surface physicalchemistry
  • Volatile organic compounds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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