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Drops on soft solids: Free energy and double transition of contact angles

Abstract

The equilibrium shape of liquid drops on elastic substrates is determined by minimising elastic and capillary free energies, focusing on thick incompressible substrates. The problem is governed by three length scales: the size of the drop RR, the molecular size aa, and the ratio of surface tension to elastic modulus γ/E\gamma/E. We show that the contact angles undergo two transitions upon changing the substrates from rigid to soft. The microscopic wetting angles deviate from Young's law when γ/Ea1\gamma/Ea \gg 1, while the apparent macroscopic angle only changes in the very soft limit γ/ER1\gamma/ER \gg 1. The elastic deformations are worked out in the simplifying case where the solid surface energy is assumed constant. The total free energy turns out lower on softer substrates, consistent with recent experiments

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