Nucleation is a ubiquitous phenomenon that governs the formation of both droplets and bubbles in systems used for condensation, desalination, water splitting, crystal growth, and many other important industrial processes. Now, for the first time, a new microscopy technique developed at MIT and elsewhere allows the process to be observed directly in detail, which could facilitate the design of improved, more efficient surfaces for a variety of such processes.
The innovation uses conventional scanning electron microscope equipment but adds a new processing technique that can increase the overall sensitivity by as much as tenfold and also improves contrast and resolution. Using this approach, the researchers were able to directly observe the spatial distribution of nucleation sites on a surface and track how that changed over time. The team then used this information to derive a precise mathematical description of the process and the variables controlling it.
The new technique could