Physics photo

Hydrophobic materials have all kinds of practical applications, from creating surfaces that never have to be cleaned to making supertankers and container ships glide more efficiently through the water. But practical applications aside, this amazing video from Caltech — showing the crazy, beautiful ways water droplets interact with a carbon nanotube array –might be mistaken for art rather than science.

Shot with a high-speed camera at various frame rates, the precisely controlled water droplets were launched at the nanotube arrays at different velocities and at different impact angles. The first segment of the video shows a simple 30 microliter droplet of water striking the array at two different speeds. At a slower 1.03 meters per second the droplet bounces off the nanotubes almost completely intact; at increased velocity it breaks into several smaller droplets and scatters in different directions.

But the really interesting segments of the video come later when the researchers start playing with the tilt and the shape of the nanotube array. We don’t want to spoil the climactic ending, but it involves two identical 14 microliter droplets rushing toward each other like star-crossed lovers racing across a field of tiny nanotubes. Who says science lacks romance?