There’s Wisdom To Be Found in That Wine Glass

Using phone cameras to observe and measure surface tension could have applications in fields ranging from pharmaceuticals to paint.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

A curious thing happens when wine is swirled around in a glass: a film coats the walls and the wine starts to climb as surface tension pulls the fluid together into droplets. Droplet-surface interactions depend on both the liquid and the surface, and mechanical engineer Alidad Amirfazli is looking at ways to measure their properties to help improve everything from medications to cooling systems.

Amirfazli is a researcher at the Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) program at York University. He is taking advantage of smartphone cameras as a visual way to measure key information about surface tension.

“The product that we’ve been able to take to the market with the help of VISTA is a smartphone-based surface tensiometry system,” says Amirfazli.

“It is a system that by taking an image of a droplet, it allows (us) to get two different properties for a liquid. One is its surface tension, the second part of it is a measurement of contact angle.”

The first property, surface tension, describes a liquid’s tendency to act cohesively at its surface like a skin. It’s the reason why you can fill a glass a little bit past the top, and it will bulge past the rim and stay together without overflowing.

The second property, contact angle, measures how a liquid droplet behaves when it is in contact with a surface, and it’s a measure of whether the liquid tends to bead up or to spread out.

Understanding these interactions and being able to manipulate them has lots of applications. It can help make better paint formulations that spread evenly over a surface, or soaps that can remove more grease as they clean. Researchers might need to understand how pharmaceuticals that are delivered as pills interact with the stomach after they dissolve there, or how a repellent coating helps liquids bead away.

It could even help designers make smarter cooling systems by understanding how liquids spread over heat exchanging devices.

By taking advantage of commonly available devices like smartphones, Amirfazli is making these important measurements more accessible and energy efficient than the equipment used in most labs today.

No matter how curious a droplet-surface interaction may seem at first, a better understanding of their properties helps explain and predict behaviour so that we can design better products.

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Before joining the York University in 2013 as the founding Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Alidad Amirfazli held the Canada Research Chair in Surface Engineering at the University of Alberta, Canada where he also served as the Associate Chair for Research (ME) between 2009-2012. Amirfazli is currently Interim Department Chair.

In 2014, Amirfazli was inducted into the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists. He also served as the first President of the RSC’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists until 2016.

Amirfazli has produced exciting results in wetting behavior of surfaces, drop adhesion and shedding, understanding and application of super-hydrophobic coatings. He has more than 250 scientific contributions, many in prestigious peer reviewed journals.

Listen to Amirfazli’s celebration of Canadian Inventors in his appearance in the CBC Radio Quirks & Quarks program: click here

He is the Editor for the Advances in Colloid and Interface Science and Editorial board member of other journals. Amirfazli has been the recipient of the Martha Cook Piper Research prize, Killam Annual Professorship, and Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award.

Amirfazli also served in the examiner board of the Professional Engineers of Alberta, and been a consultant with various companies in USA, Europe, and Canada.

Amirfazli served as a member of NSERC DG 1512 committee (federal funding agency), and Research Intensification Committee at the York University. He also has served in the Tenure & Promotion Senate Committee at the York University, and has provided other university service as a member or chairing hiring committees for nearly 12 faculty members, space planning committee, and faculty evaluation committee.

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