From Beetles in Nature to the Laboratory: Actuating Underwater Locomotion on Hydrophobic Surfaces

Bat El Pinchasik*, Jan Steinkühler, Pieter Wuytens, Andre G. Skirtach, Peter Fratzl, Helmuth Möhwald

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The controlled wetting and dewetting of surfaces is a primary mechanism used by beetles in nature, such as the ladybird and the leaf beetle for underwater locomotion.1 Their adhesion to surfaces underwater is enabled through the attachment of bubbles trapped in their setae-covered legs. Locomotion, however, is performed by applying mechanical forces in order to move, attach, and detach the bubbles in a controlled manner. Under synthetic conditions, however, when a bubble is bound to a surface, it is nearly impossible to maneuver without the use of external stimuli. Thus, actuated wetting and dewetting of surfaces remain challenges. Here, electrowetting-on-dielectric (EWOD) is used for the manipulation of bubble-particle complexes on unpatterned surfaces. Bubbles nucleate on catalytic Janus disks adjacent to a hydrophobic surface. By changing the wettability of the surface through electrowetting, the bubbles show a variety of reactions, depending on the shape and periodicity of the electrical signal. Time-resolved (∼s) imaging of bubble radial oscillations reveals possible mechanisms for the lateral mobility of bubbles on a surface under electrowetting: bubble instability is induced when electric pulses are carefully adjusted. This instability is used to control the surface-bound bubble locomotion and is described in terms of the change in surface energy. It is shown that a deterministic force applied normal can lead to a random walk of micrometer-sized bubbles by exploiting the phenomenon of contact angle hysteresis. Finally, bubble use in nature for underwater locomotion and the actuated bubble locomotion presented in this study are compared.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13734-13742
Number of pages9
Issue number51
StatePublished - 29 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


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