Consider the nearest water surface: a half-full glass on your desk, a puddle outside your window, or a lake across town. All of these surfaces represent liquid-vapor interfaces, where liquid meets air. Molecules of water vapor constantly collide with these liquid surfaces: Some make it through the surface and condense, while others simply bounce off.
The probability that a vapor molecule will bounce, or reflect, off a liquid surface is a fundamental property of water, much like its boiling point. And yet, in the last century, there has been little agreement on the likelihood that a water molecule will bounce off the liquid surface.
"When a water vapor molecule hits a surface, does it immediately go into the liquid? Or does it come off and hit again and again, then eventually go in?" says Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. "There's a lot of controversy, and there's no easy way to measure this basic property."
Knowing this bouncing probability would give scientists an essential understanding of a variety of applications that involve water flow: the movement of water through soil, the formation of clouds and fog, and the efficiency of water-filtration devices.
This last application spurred Karnik and his colleagues Jongho Lee, an MIT graduate student in mechanical engineering, and Tahar Laoui, a professor at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in Saudi Arabia to study water's probability of bouncing. The group is developing membranes for water desalination; this technology's success depends, in part, on the ability of water vapor to flow through the membrane and condense on the other side as purified water.
By observing water transport through membranes with pores of various sizes, the group has measured a water molecule's probability of condensing or bouncing off a liquid surface at the nanoscale. The results, published in Nature Nanotechnology, co
|Contact: Abby Abazorius|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology