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Langmuir. 2009 Nov 3;25(21):12771-9. doi: 10.1021/la900882h.

Use of surfactants to reduce the driving voltage of switchable optical elements based on electrowetting.

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Departement de Chimie Physique des Réactions, UMR 7630 CNRS-INPL, Nancy-Université 1, rue Grandville, BP 20451, 54001 Nancy Cedex, France.


The advantage of using electrowetting as a novel principle for a reflective display has been previously demonstrated. The principle is based on the controlled two-dimensional movement of an oil/water interface across a hydrophobic fluoropolymer insulator. The main objective of this paper is to show experimentally the influence of surfactants on the electro-optic behavior of a single electrowetting pixel. The concentration and type of nonionic surfactant (Tween 80 and Span 20) have been varied. The experimental data are compared with calculations from the electro-optic model developed previously. The electro-optic performance is significantly affected by the nature and the concentration of surfactant. In the presence of Tween, at concentrations lower than the critical micelle concentration (CMC), and mixtures of Tween and Span the electro-optic behavior can be related to the interfacial tension. When decreasing the oil/water interfacial tension, the amplitude of the driving voltage required for obtaining a given oil displacement decreases and the switching curve becomes steeper. These effects can be accurately reproduced by means of the previously developed electro-optic model. Mixtures of Tween and Span produce a significant synergetic reduction of the driving voltage. For Tween concentrations higher than the CMC and Span, a strong disagreement is observed between the previously developed model and experimental data. Here a new physical model is reported that describes the electro-optic behavior of electrowetting-based optical elements in the presence of surfactants. The model takes into account the actual voltage used to control the liquid movement in electrowetting (lower than the applied voltage), the amount of surfactant adsorbed at the decane/water interface, and the dipole moment of the surfactant molecules. The calculated results are in very good agreement with experimental data without employing fitting parameters. The dipoles interact with the applied field and lower the actual applied field. This reduction of the effective electric field across the solid-liquid interface induces a decrease in the charge density at the solid-liquid interface and reduces the electrowetting force. For surfactant concentrations higher than the CMC, the electro-optic performance does not depend on the surfactant concentration. This demonstrates that the reduction of the electrowetting field due to the large dipole moment of the surfactant molecules occurs at the oil/water interface. A new method for the test cell fabrication is also presented.

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