Scalloped pattern deposition during the spreading and drying of polymer droplets †

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Othman, Ahmed M. 
Poulos, Andreas S. 
Torres, Ophelie 
Routh, Alexander F.  ORCID logo

Droplets containing polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) dissolved in ethanol display a distinctive scalloped pattern at the rim while spreading and drying on a high-energy surface. Two distinct spreading regimes are observed, leading to the formation of a thin film with a uniform height that extends from the original droplet. An experimental study indicates polymer accumulation at the edge containing trace water, resulting in a surface tension gradient across the droplet, enhancing the droplet's spreading. This fast-spreading film develops a ridge at the contact line and becomes unstable. The influence of evaporation within the droplet shows no significant effect on the wavelength of the instability. Instead, the magnitude of the surface tension gradient and the surface energy of the substrate emerge as the dominant factors influencing the instability. This observation is validated by saturating the environment surrounding the droplet with ethanol vapour to reduce evaporation or employing solvents with low vapour pressure. Additionally, PVP in ethanol droplets deposited on hydrophobic substrates demonstrate a stable and pinned contact line, contrasting the behaviour observed on high-energy surfaces. By identifying the critical overlap concentration of the polymer, the transitional threshold between the scalloped instability and ringlike morphology is determined. The scalloped instability can be suppressed by removing residual water from the solution, eliminating the surface tension gradient, indicating that Marangoni forces are the underlying cause of the observed instability. The long-wave evolution equation, assuming a constant Marangoni shear flow, accurately predicts the most unstable wavelength, demonstrating good agreement with experimental observations.


Acknowledgements: This work has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and CASE studentship funding from Unilever UK.

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Soft Matter
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The Royal Society of Chemistry
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (Unassigned)
Unilever (Unassigned)