We captured interesting static and dynamic behavior of the liquid-vapor interface in well-defined silicon micropillar arrays during thermally driven evaporation of water from the microstructured surface. The 3-D shape of the meniscus was characterized via laser interferometry where bright and dark fringes result from the interference of incident and reflected monochromatic light due to a variable thickness thin liquid film (FIG. 1). During steady state evaporation experiments, water was supplied to the sample with a syringe pump at 10 L/min. FIG. 2a and 2b show a SEM image of a typical fabricated micropillar array and a schematic of the experimental setup, respectively.
When water wicks through the micropillar array, the meniscus in a unit cell (four pillars in FIG. 1) assumes an equilibrium shape depending on the location from the liquid source/reservoir and the ambient conditions (ambient evaporation at Qin = 0 W). At this point, the meniscus is pinned at the top of the pillars. As the evaporation rate increases due the applied heat flux, the meniscus increases in curvature, thus increasing the capillary pressure to sustain the higher evaporation rate. This is evidenced by the increasing number of fringes in the unit cell when Qin is increased (0 W, 0.11 W, 0.44 W, and 0.99 W, FIG. 1a-1d respectively). Beyond a maximum curvature, the meniscus de-pins from the pillar top surface and recedes within the unit cell. This occurs when the capillary pressure generated at this curvature, cannot balance the viscous loss resulting from flow through the micropillar array. We observed that this receding shape was independent of the applied heat, and only depended on the micropillar array geometry and the intrinsic wettability of the material. Representative meniscus profiles along the diagonal direction of the unit cell obtained from image analysis of FIG. 1 at various Qin are shown in FIG. 2c.