YSU plays role in water-splitting research

Cutting a drop of water

A superhydrophobic knife cuts through a drop of water as part of a research project that included YSU Physics Professor James Andrews and former graduate student James Aldridge.

Chances are you’ve never thought much about cutting a water drop in half.

James Aldridge and James Andrews have.

YSU Chemical Engineering student James Aldridge and Physics Professor James Andrews worked with their chemistry and biochemistry counterparts at Arizona State University to show how a superhydrophobic knife can create two cleanly separated drops of water – a discovery that could have potential applications in biomedical research.

The research was recently published in PLOS ONE, an international, peer-reviewed online journal, and has garnered worldwide attention, including articles in New Scientist, Real Clear Science and even the International Business Times in Mexico.

The research was initiated by Antonio Garcia, professor of biological and health systems engineering at ASU. Garcia and his colleagues at ASU teamed with Aldridge and Andrews, who conducted experiments in Andrews’ lab in Ward Beecher Hall at YSU, particularly some of the frame-by-frame video analysis of the drop splitting process.

In the experiment, a drop of water was placed on a Teflon-coated slide and held in place between two wire loops. Then a knife treated with silver nitrate and a water-repelling solution called HDFT was lowered into the drop. The coatings forced the drop to split cleanly without creating secondary droplets due to splashing.

Gizmodo, a technology weblog featuring the latest in gadget news and culture, described the process this way: “Like Moses parting the Red Sea, but without killing any Egyptians.”

Andrews said that their collaborators at ASU have shown how the wire loops can be used as electrodes to enable isolation and purification of small dissolved samples through isoelectric focusing, a technique important to microfluidics and molecular bioengineering.

New Scientist reports that being able to cleanly cut drops could make it easier to separate proteins mixed in with biological fluids, allowing the proteins to be analyzed faster and more efficiently. The research has applications in biomedicine, where small samples are critical to finding solutions, such as in the analysis of a single cancerous cell.

Aldridge graduated from YSU in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering and is now pursuing a doctorate at Case Western Reserve University.  At Case, Aldridge studies fundamental properties and applications of multilayer polymers as part of a team that also has a long history of collaboration with Andrews and other faculty and students in physics at YSU.

Story by Harry Evans