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07.09.2007



Wet, not wet, wet



06 September 2007



Bored of bath-cleaning? Wearied by window-washing? Thanks to a group of scientists in Israel these mundane chores could soon be consigned to the past.


Diagram of the benzoquinone/hydroquinone redox reaction


Itamar Willner and colleagues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have made a quinine-coated 'smart surface' whose wettability can be switched using either an electrical or a chemical trigger. Such surfaces are inspired by self-cleaning systems in nature. The lotus leaf, for example, has a hydrophobic surface which allows water droplets to roll off the leaf, removing dirt from its surface.


Willner and his team coated a gold surface with hydrophobic benzoquinone, which is reduced to hydrophilic hydroquinone using either an applied voltage or a chemical reducing agent. Hydroquinone has two hydroxyl groups that interact strongly with the water, causing the surface to become 'wetter' when reduced.



"A smart idea to create a smart surface"
- Jilie Kong, Fudan University, Shanghai

'The hydroquinone/benzoquinone surface evolved from a much more complex system that, after a lot of effort, did not work at all. We were still surprised with how robust the [simple] system [was] and how dramatic the changes were that we observed,' said Willner.


The team's smart surface is easily prepared and the small size of quinone means that a lot of molecules can be packed into the surface, causing large macroscopic changes in the surface wettability.


Aside from self-cleaning applications, these clever surfaces may be used in microfluidic devices that could provide new analytical procedures for clinical diagnostics. For example, if the inner part of a capillary was coated with a conductive film functionalized with Willner's quinine monolayer it could be used to suck minute volumes of fluid from cells or organs.


'A smart idea to create a smart surface,' said Jilie Kong, an microfluidics expert at Fudan University, Shanghai. 'The reversible change of hydrophobicity/hydrophilicity is promising in the design of novel microfluidic chips or biosensors,' said Kong.


Ruth Doherty




Link to journal article



Electrochemical control of surface properties using a quinone-functionalized monolayer: effects of donor–acceptor complexes
Agnieszka Wieckowska, Adam B. Braunschweig and Itamar Willner, Chem. Commun., 2007
DOI: 10.1039/b710540a


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  • Chen Wev .  honorary member of ISSC science council

  • Harton Vladislav Vadim  honorary member of ISSC science council

  • Lichtenstain Alexandr Iosif  honorary member of ISSC science council

  • Novikov Dimirtii Leonid  honorary member of ISSC science council

  • Yakushev Mikhail Vasilii  honorary member of ISSC science council

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