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15 favourite papers over the 15 years' Nature Physics

When the manuscript ‘Pancake bouncing on superhydrophobic surfaces’ by Yahua Liu and colleagues17 landed on my desk in March 2014, the initial editorial decision was straightforward: here was a novel phenomenon, ‘nice’ underlying physics and application potential. In other words, a perfect fit for Nature Physics.

The paper dealt with drop impact: how liquid droplets bounce back (or not) after impinging on a solid surface. The practical motivation for this kind of research traditionally comes from potential applications like printing or spray coating. Liu and colleagues reported that an originally spherical droplet of water can be made to bounce off a surface in a flat, disc-like form — ‘pancake bouncing’ is what the authors called it. The trick lies in the surface: an array of conical micropillars coated with a superhydrophobic layer. When the dimensions and the geometry of the pillars are just right, the capillary force is such that the impacted droplet lifts off exactly when it has attained a pancake shape. The associated fourfold reduction in contact time is promising for eventual applications.

The manuscript sailed smoothly through the review process, was quickly accepted and published, accompanied by a News & Views18, in June 2014. End of story? Not exactly — enter inspiration.

Months later, I was contacted by Tina Hecksher, a physics professor at Roskilde University, Denmark, asking for permission to show the paper in a video. It turned out that Hecksher and some of her students had tried to reproduce pancake bouncing on the macroscale19. The droplet was replaced by a water-filled balloon and the pillar surface by a bed of nails. A gracefully executed pancake bounce ensued. The publication of these findings led to more publicity. Several international newspapers picked up the story, and Hecksher and one of her students appeared on Danish national TV to demonstrate and talk about the pancake bounce.

Beautiful physics, inspiring papers — at Nature Physics, that’s as good as it gets.

Bart Verberck was an editor at Nature Physics from 2013 to 2017.

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