Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, 111(16), 2014
K. Lee, Q. Kim, S. An, J. An, J. Kim, B. Kim and W. Jhe
Titania, which exhibits superwetting under light illumination, has been widely used as an ideal material for environmental solution such as self-cleaning, water–air purification, and antifogging. There have been various studies to understand such superhydrophilic conversion. The origin of superwetting has not been clarified in a unified mechanism yet, which requires direct experimental investigation of the dynamic processes of water-layer growth. We report in situ measurements of the growth rate and height of the photo-adsorbed water layers by tip-based dynamic force microscopy. For nanocrystalline anatase and rutile TiO2 we observe light-induced enhancement of the rate and height, which decrease after O2 annealing. The results lead us to confirm that the long-range attraction between water molecules and TiO2, which is mediated by delocalized electrons in the shallow traps associated with O2 vacancies, produces photo-adsorption of water on the surface. In addition, molecular dynamics simulations clearly show that such photo-adsorbed water is critical to the zero contact angle of a water droplet spreading on it. Therefore, we conclude that this “water wets water” mechanism acting on the photo-adsorbed water layers is responsible for the light-induced superwetting of TiO2. Similar mechanism may be applied for better understanding of the hydrophilic conversion of doped TiO2 or other photo-catalytic oxides.