Gallium-based liquid metals are of interest for a variety of applications including flexible electronics, soft robotics, and biomedical devices. Still, nano- to microscale device fabrication with these materials is challenging because, despite having surface tension 10 times higher than water, they strongly adhere to a majority of substrates. This unusually high adhesion is attributed to the formation of a thin oxide shell; however, its role in the adhesion process has not yet been established. In this work, we demonstrate that, dependent on dynamics of formation and resulting morphology of the liquid metal–substrate interface, GaInSn adhesion can occur in two modes. The first mode occurs when the oxide shell is not ruptured as it makes contact with the substrate. Because of the nanoscale topology of the oxide surface, this mode results in minimal adhesion between the liquid metal and most solids, regardless of substrate’s surface energy or texture. In the second mode, the formation of the GaInSn–substrate interface involves rupturing of the original oxide skin and formation of a composite interface that includes contact between the substrate and pieces of old oxide, bare liquid metal, and new oxide. We demonstrate that in this latter mode GaInSn adhesion is dominated by the intimate contact between new oxide and substrate. We also show that by varying the pinned contact line length using varied degrees of surface texturing, the adhesion of GaInSn in this mode can be either decreased or increased. Lastly, we demonstrate how these two adhesion modes limit microcontact printing of GaInSn patterns but can be exploited to repeatedly print individual sub-200 nm liquid metal drops.

Paper: Kyle Doudrick, Shanliangzi Liu, Eva M. Mutunga, Kate L. Klein, Viraj Damle, Kripa K. Varanasi, and Konrad Rykaczewski, Langmuir