Effect of hydrocarbon adsorption on the wettability of rare earth oxide ceramics

Daniel J. Preston, Nenad Miljkovic, Jean Sack, Ryan Enright, John Queeney, Evelyn N. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Vapor condensation is routinely used as an effective means of transferring heat, with dropwise condensation exhibiting a 5-7x heat transfer improvement compared to filmwise condensation. However, state-of-the-art techniques to promote dropwise condensation rely on functional hydrophobic coatings, which are often not robust and therefore undesirable for industrial implementation. Natural surface contamination due to hydrocarbon adsorption, particularly on noble metals, has been explored as an alternative approach to realize stable dropwise condensing surfaces. While noble metals are prohibitively expensive, the recent discovery of robust rare earth oxide (REO) hydrophobicity has generated interest for dropwise condensation applications due to material costs approaching 1% of gold; however, the underlying mechanism of REO hydrophobicity remains under debate. In this work, we show through careful experiments and modeling that REO hydrophobicity occurs due to the same hydrocarbon adsorption mechanism seen previously on noble metals. To investigate adsorption dynamics, we studied holmia and ceria REOs, along with control samples of gold and silica, via X-Ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and dynamic time-resolved contact angle measurements. The contact angle and surface carbon percent started at ≈0 on in-situ argon-plasma-cleaned samples and increased asymptotically over time after exposure to laboratory air, with the rare earth oxides displaying hydrophobic (>90°) advancing contact angle behavior at long times (>4 days). The results indicate that REOs are in fact hydrophilic when clean and become hydrophobic due to hydrocarbon adsorption. Furthermore, this study provides insight into how REOs can be used to promote stable dropwise condensation, which is important for the development of enhanced phase change surfaces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number011601
JournalApplied Physics Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 7 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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