Interface (matter)

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In the physical sciences, an interface is the boundary between two spatial regions occupied by different matter, or by matter in different physical states. The interface between matter and air, or matter and vacuum, is called a surface, and studied in surface science. In thermal equilibrium, the regions in contact are called phases, and the interface is called a phase boundary. An example for an interface out of equilibrium is the grain boundary in polycrystalline matter.

The importance of the interface depends on the type of system: the bigger the quotient area/volume, the greater the effect the interface will have. Consequently, interfaces are very important in systems with large interface area-to-volume ratios, such as colloids.

Interfaces can be flat or curved. For example, oil droplets in a salad dressing are spherical but the interface between water and air in a glass of water is mostly flat.

Surface tension is the physical property which rules interface processes involving liquids. For a liquid film on flat surfaces, the liquid-vapor interface keeps flat to minimize interfacial area and system free energy. For a liquid film on rough surfaces, the surface tension tends to keep the meniscus flat, while the disjoining pressure makes the film conformal to the substrate. The equilibrium meniscus shape is a result of the competition between the capillary pressure and disjoining pressure. [1]

Interfaces may cause various optical phenomena, such as refraction. Optical lenses serve as an example of a practical application of the interface between glass and air.

One topical interface system is the gas-liquid interface between aerosols and other atmospheric molecules.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phase (matter)</span> Region of uniform physical properties

In the physical sciences, a phase is a region of space, throughout which all physical properties of a material are essentially uniform. Examples of physical properties include density, index of refraction, magnetization and chemical composition. A simple description is that a phase is a region of material that is chemically uniform, physically distinct, and (often) mechanically separable. In a system consisting of ice and water in a glass jar, the ice cubes are one phase, the water is a second phase, and the humid air is a third phase over the ice and water. The glass of the jar is another separate phase.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Surface tension</span> Tendency of a liquid surface to shrink to reduce surface area

Surface tension is the tendency of liquid surfaces at rest to shrink into the minimum surface area possible. Surface tension is what allows objects with a higher density than water such as razor blades and insects to float on a water surface without becoming even partly submerged.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Capillary action</span> Ability of a liquid to flow in narrow spaces

Capillary action is the process of a liquid flowing in a narrow space without the assistance of, or even in opposition to, any external forces like gravity. The effect can be seen in the drawing up of liquids between the hairs of a paint-brush, in a thin tube, in porous materials such as paper and plaster, in some non-porous materials such as sand and liquefied carbon fiber, or in a biological cell. It occurs because of intermolecular forces between the liquid and surrounding solid surfaces. If the diameter of the tube is sufficiently small, then the combination of surface tension and adhesive forces between the liquid and container wall act to propel the liquid.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Meniscus (liquid)</span> Physical phenomenon

The meniscus is the curve in the upper surface of a liquid close to the surface of the container or another object, produced by surface tension.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Foam</span> Form of matter

Foams are materials formed by trapping pockets of gas in a liquid or solid.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wetting</span> Ability of a liquid to maintain contact with a solid surface

Wetting is the ability of a liquid to maintain contact with a solid surface, resulting from intermolecular interactions when the two are brought together. This happens in presence of a gaseous phase or another liquid phase not miscible with the first one. The degree of wetting (wettability) is determined by a force balance between adhesive and cohesive forces.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marangoni effect</span> Physical phenomenon between two fluids

The Marangoni effect is the mass transfer along an interface between two phases due to a gradient of the surface tension. In the case of temperature dependence, this phenomenon may be called thermo-capillary convection.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Contact angle</span> The angle between a liquid–vapor interface and a solid surface

The contact angle is the angle, conventionally measured through the liquid, where a liquid–vapor interface meets a solid surface. It quantifies the wettability of a solid surface by a liquid via the Young equation. A given system of solid, liquid, and vapor at a given temperature and pressure has a unique equilibrium contact angle. However, in practice a dynamic phenomenon of contact angle hysteresis is often observed, ranging from the advancing (maximal) contact angle to the receding (minimal) contact angle. The equilibrium contact is within those values, and can be calculated from them. The equilibrium contact angle reflects the relative strength of the liquid, solid, and vapour molecular interaction.

In fluid statics, capillary pressure is the pressure between two immiscible fluids in a thin tube, resulting from the interactions of forces between the fluids and solid walls of the tube. Capillary pressure can serve as both an opposing or driving force for fluid transport and is a significant property for research and industrial purposes. It is also observed in natural phenomena.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cheerios effect</span> When floating objects attract each other

In fluid mechanics, the Cheerios effect is a colloquial name for the phenomenon of floating objects appearing to either attract or repel one another. The example which gives the effect its name is the observation that pieces of breakfast cereal floating on the surface of a bowl will tend to clump together, or appear to stick to the side of the bowl.

In physics, the Young–Laplace equation is an algebraic equation that describes the capillary pressure difference sustained across the interface between two static fluids, such as water and air, due to the phenomenon of surface tension or wall tension, although use of the latter is only applicable if assuming that the wall is very thin. The Young–Laplace equation relates the pressure difference to the shape of the surface or wall and it is fundamentally important in the study of static capillary surfaces. It's a statement of normal stress balance for static fluids meeting at an interface, where the interface is treated as a surface :

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wilhelmy plate</span> Device used to measure surface tension

A Wilhelmy plate is a thin plate that is used to measure equilibrium surface or interfacial tension at an air–liquid or liquid–liquid interface. In this method, the plate is oriented perpendicular to the interface, and the force exerted on it is measured. Based on the work of Ludwig Wilhelmy, this method finds wide use in the preparation and monitoring of Langmuir films.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Capillary length</span>

The capillary length or capillary constant, is a length scaling factor that relates gravity and surface tension. It is a fundamental physical property that governs the behavior of menisci, and is found when body forces (gravity) and surface forces are in equilibrium.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Capillary condensation</span>

Capillary condensation is the "process by which multilayer adsorption from the vapor [phase] into a porous medium proceeds to the point at which pore spaces become filled with condensed liquid from the vapor [phase]." The unique aspect of capillary condensation is that vapor condensation occurs below the saturation vapor pressure, Psat, of the pure liquid. This result is due to an increased number of van der Waals interactions between vapor phase molecules inside the confined space of a capillary. Once condensation has occurred, a meniscus immediately forms at the liquid-vapor interface which allows for equilibrium below the saturation vapor pressure. Meniscus formation is dependent on the surface tension of the liquid and the shape of the capillary, as shown by the Young-Laplace equation. As with any liquid-vapor interface involving a meniscus, the Kelvin equation provides a relation for the difference between the equilibrium vapor pressure and the saturation vapor pressure. A capillary does not necessarily have to be a tubular, closed shape, but can be any confined space with respect to its surroundings.

In physics, the maximum bubble pressure method, or in short bubble pressure method, is a technique to measure the surface tension of a liquid, with surfactants.

In surface chemistry, disjoining pressure according to an IUPAC definition arises from an attractive interaction between two surfaces. For two flat and parallel surfaces, the value of the disjoining pressure can be calculated as the derivative of the Gibbs energy of interaction per unit area in respect to distance. There is also a related concept of disjoining force, which can be viewed as disjoining pressure times the surface area of the interacting surfaces.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jurin's law</span>

Jurin's law, or capillary rise, is the simplest analysis of capillary action—the induced motion of liquids in small channels—and states that the maximum height of a liquid in a capillary tube is inversely proportional to the tube's diameter. Capillary action is one of the most common fluid mechanical effects explored in the field of microfluidics. Jurin's law is named after James Jurin, who discovered it between 1718 and 1719. His quantitative law suggests that the maximum height of liquid in a capillary tube is inversely proportional to the tube's diameter. The difference in height between the surroundings of the tube and the inside, as well as the shape of the meniscus, are caused by capillary action. The mathematical expression of this law can be derived directly from hydrostatic principles and the Young–Laplace equation. Jurin's law allows the measurement of the surface tension of a liquid and can be used to derive the capillary length.

The Gibbs–Thomson effect, in common physics usage, refers to variations in vapor pressure or chemical potential across a curved surface or interface. The existence of a positive interfacial energy will increase the energy required to form small particles with high curvature, and these particles will exhibit an increased vapor pressure. See Ostwald–Freundlich equation. More specifically, the Gibbs–Thomson effect refers to the observation that small crystals are in equilibrium with their liquid melt at a lower temperature than large crystals. In cases of confined geometry, such as liquids contained within porous media, this leads to a depression in the freezing point / melting point that is inversely proportional to the pore size, as given by the Gibbs–Thomson equation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Capillary bridges</span>

Usually, we understand the term capillary bridge as a minimized surface of liquid or membrane, created between two rigid bodies with an arbitrary shape. Capillary bridges also may form between two liquids. Plateau defined a sequence of capillary shapes known as (1) nodoid with 'neck', (2) catenoid, (3) unduloid with 'neck', (4) cylinder, (5) unduloid with 'haunch' (6) sphere and (7) nodoid with 'haunch'. The presence of capillary bridge, depending on their shapes, can lead to attraction or repulsion between the solid bodies. The simplest cases of them are the axisymmetric ones. We distinguished three important classes of bridging, depending on connected bodies surface shapes:

In physics and engineering, the thin-film equation is a partial differential equation that approximately predicts the time evolution of the thickness h of a liquid film that lies on a surface. The equation is derived via lubrication theory which is based on the assumption that the length-scales in the surface directions are significantly larger than in the direction normal to the surface. In the non-dimensional form of the Navier-Stokes equation the requirement is that terms of order and are negligible, where is the aspect ratio and is the Reynold's number. This significantly simplifies the governing equations. However lubrication theory, as the name suggests, is typically derived for flow between two solid surfaces hence the liquid forms a lubricating layer. The thin-film equation holds when there is a single free surface. With two free surfaces the flow must be treated as a viscous sheet.


  1. Hu, Han; Weinberger, Christopher R.; Sun, Ying (2014-11-17). "Effect of Nanostructures on the Meniscus Shape and Disjoining Pressure of Ultrathin Liquid Film". Nano Letters . American Chemical Society (ACS). 14 (12): 7131–7137. doi:10.1021/nl5037066. ISSN   1530-6984.