Liquid drops attract or repel by the inverted Cheerios effect.
7403 - 7407
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
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Solid particles floating at a liquid interface exhibit a long-ranged attraction mediated by surface tension. In the absence of bulk elasticity, this is the dominant lateral interaction of mechanical origin. Here, we show that an analogous long-range interaction occurs between adjacent droplets on solid substrates, which crucially relies on a combination of capillarity and bulk elasticity. We experimentally observe the interaction between droplets on soft gels and provide a theoretical framework that quantitatively predicts the interaction force between the droplets. Remarkably, we find that, although on thick substrates the interaction is purely attractive and leads to drop-drop coalescence, for relatively thin substrates a short-range repulsion occurs, which prevents the two drops from coming into direct contact. This versatile interaction is the liquid-on-solid analog of the "Cheerios effect." The effect will strongly influence the condensation and coarsening of drops on soft polymer films, and has potential implications for colloidal assembly and mechanobiology.