Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Chemical Engineering

First Adviser

Chaudhury, Manoj K.

Other advisers/committee members

Jagota, Anand; Andrew, Klein; Raymond, Pearson A.; Mark, Synder A.


Advances in surface modification are changing the world. Changing surface properties of bulk materials with nanometer scale coatings enables inventions ranging from the familiar non-stick frying pan to advanced composite aircraft. Nanometer or monolayer coatings used to modify a surface affect the macro-scale properties of a system; for example, composite adhesive joints between the fuselage and internal frame of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner play a vital role in the structural stability of the aircraft. This dissertation focuses on a collection of surface modification techniques that are used in the areas of adhesion and wetting. Adhesive joints are rapidly replacing the familiar bolt and rivet assemblies used by the aerospace and automotive industries. This transition is fueled by the incorporation of composite materials into aircraft and high performance road vehicles. Adhesive joints have several advantages over the traditional rivet, including, significant weight reduction and efficient stress transfer between bonded materials. As fuel costs continue to rise, the weight reduction is accelerating this transition. Traditional surface pretreatments designed to improve the adhesion of polymeric materials to metallic surfaces are extremely toxic. Replacement adhesive technologies must be compatible with the environment without sacrificing adhesive performance. Silane-coupling agents have emerged as ideal surface modifications for improving composite joint strength. As these coatings are generally applied as very thin layers (<50 nm), it is challenging to characterize their material properties for correlation to adhesive performance. We circumvent this problem by estimating the elastic modulus of the silane-based coatings using the buckling instability formed between two materials of a large elastic mismatch. The elastic modulus is found to effectively predict the joint strength of an epoxy/aluminum joint that has been reinforced with silane coupling agents. This buckling technique is extended to investigate the effects of chemical composition on the elastic modulus. Finally, the effect of macro-scale roughness on silane-reinforced joints is investigated within the framework of the unresolved problem of how to best characterize rough surfaces. Initially, the fractal dimension is used to characterize grit-blasted and sanded surfaces. It is found that, contrary to what has been suggested in the literature, the fractal dimension is independent of the roughening mechanism. Instead, the use of an anomalous diffusion coefficient is proposed as a more effective way to characterize a rough surface. Surface modification by preparation of surface energy gradients is then investigated. Materials with gradients in surface energy are useful in the areas of microfluidics, heat transfer and protein adsorption, to name a few. Gradients are prepared by vapor deposition of a reactive silane from a filter paper source. The technique gives control over the size and shape of the gradient. This surface modification is then used to induce droplet motion through repeated stretching and compression of a water drop between two gradient surfaces. This inchworm type motion is studied in detail and offers an alternative method to surface vibration for moving drops in microfluidic devices. The final surface modification considered is the application of a thin layer of rubber to a rigid surface. While this technique has many practical uses, such as easy release coatings in marine environments, it is applied herein to enable spontaneous healing between a rubber surface and a glass cover slip. Study of the diffusion controlled healing of a blister can be made by trapping an air filled blister between a glass cover slip and a rubber film. Through this study we find evidence for an interfacial diffusion process. This mechanism of diffusion is likely to be important in many biological systems.