Boiling is an important feature in many engineering processes, such as in the steam cycle in many power plants. It is also a highly multiscale phenomenon, with boiling bubbles nucleating on nanoscale features of solid substrates and growing to sizes of the order of mm. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have demonstrated the drastic effects that alterations at the nanoscale can have on boiling nucleation with the use of surfactants. By applying a voltage to certain parts of a substrate, the surfactants effectively render the substrate hydrophobic and can rapidly induce boiling at very specific regions of the substrate.
The rate at which boiling can be switched on or off is also particularly impressive, although as we all know the ultimate test for how fast scientists can control a process is by syncing it up with classical music… MIT calls this piece “Ode to Bubbles”, enjoy!
Cho, H. J. et al. Turning bubbles on and off during boiling using charged surfactants. Nat. Commun. 6:8599 doi: 10.1038/ncomms9599 (2015)