No more bubbles when boiling water

September 13, 2012, University of Melbourne

High-speed camera snapshots of 20-mm steel spheres cooling in water. Credit: Nature 489, 274–277. doi:10.1038/nature11418
(—The research, which is the first of its kind, has identified a specially engineered steel surface that allows liquids to boil without bubbling.

"This would be advantageous for use in industrial situations such as nuclear power plants, where vapour explosions are best avoided, or where gentle heating is desirable" said Professor Derek Chan, from the University's Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

The study suggests that the new surface could also be applied to other situations that involve the transfer of heat, such as reducing fogging and preventing ice or frost formation on windows.

"Our results show the potential of using this textured surface to control heating and cooling events that affect the formation of frost on windows and ice on the control surfaces of aircrafts or even refrigeration units," he said.

The international study was done in collaboration between the University of Melbourne and Dr Neelesh Patankar from the Northwestern University in the United States and Dr Ivan Vakarelski and his team at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia where the experimental studies were carried out.

The study was published today in the journal Nature.

A combined movie showing the cooling of 20mm hydrophilic (left side) and superhydrophobic (right side) steel spheres in 100°C water. Credit: Nature 489, 274–277 doi:10.1038/nature11418

The research found that a textured, highly water-repellent steel surface controls the boiling process of a liquid and stops it from bubbling up the sides of a container and boiling over.

This is achieved by using a textured surface structure to control the stability of the vapour layer, that is, the layer of steam that forms on a surface when water is boiled. 

"In most smooth surfaces, heat transfer from the surface to the liquid is prevented by the low of the vapour layer," said Professor Chan.

"This vapour layer collapses when the surface cools, which could result in an explosion."

Professor Chan said that in textured surfaces, the vapour layer is maintained until the surface is completely cooled, preventing the liquid from bubbling and boiling over.

"The discovery shows how the texture of surfaces can combine to control the of liquid in a way that was not thought to be possible", he said.

Explore further: Boiling breakthrough: Nano-coating doubles rate of heat transfer

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5 / 5 (1) Sep 13, 2012
Using this in a nuclear power plant, I'd be more worried that this surface might make the water more likely to become super heated. When it finally did boil it could be very catastrophic.
1 / 5 (2) Sep 13, 2012
Such a research appears nice in the lab, but technological praxis may be quite different. The superhydrophobic surface is the more effective, the smaller its surface structures are, the more it would be sensitive to incrustation and corrosion.
1.5 / 5 (2) Sep 13, 2012
Using this in a nuclear power plant, I'd be more worried that this surface might make the water more likely to become super heated. When it finally did boil it could be very catastrophic.

Unless, of course, the engineers are smart enough to keep track of the temperature and pressure of the vessel and have sensors to shut it down if it goes out of spec...
not rated yet Sep 15, 2012
Could that be also used as a propulsion system for e.g. ship (surface or underwater) or even for aircrafts if the air around the craft shel would be heated and trapped only to be released at the rear?
not rated yet Sep 15, 2012
Also vapour is of lower density and therefore for ships/boats such system could simply vaporise the water ahead and around at a very close distance to the boat surface reducing significantly the "friction/viscosity" of water and therefore making the boat much faster. In other words by boiling the ocean - we could reduce the CO emissions from ships burning millions of tonnes of fuel to transport fuel for even more burning.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 15, 2012
Could that be also used as a propulsion system for e.g. ship
Yes, it's famous toy: a pop pop boat
1 / 5 (1) Sep 16, 2012
On the opposite side of the coin, you have this and this. Alumina layer doubles heat transfer from pot to liquid, and copper nanorods result in an order of magnitude less energy to boil a liquid.

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