A static contact angle is most often used as a means of quantifying the wetting characteristics of the liquid phase in vaporization processes at a solid surface. This metric is often convenient to measure and intuitive in its interpretation, but when a surface is superhydrophilic, the resulting low contact angles are difficult to measure accurately from photographs of sessile droplet profiles or contact line regions. For droplets at ultra low contact angles, small changes of contact angle can produce very large changes in wetted surface area, which makes small uncertainties in contact angle result in large uncertainties in wetted area. For hydrophilic nanostructured surfaces, another disadvantage is that the relationship of the macroscopic (apparent) contact angle to the nanoscale interaction of the liquid and vapor contact line with the nanostructured surface is not always clear. In this study, a new wetting metric based on spreading characteristics of sessile droplets is proposed that can be easily measured for hydrophilic surfaces. This metric also has the advantage that it is a more direct and sensitive indicator of how a droplet spreads on the surface. The spread area directly impacts heat transfer interactions between the droplet and the surface, therefore affecting evaporation time. Consequently, a metric that more directly illustrates the spread area provides an indication of how the wetting will affect these mechanisms.
Use of the proposed new metric is explored in the context of evaporation and boiling applications with superhydrophilic surfaces. Characteristics of this metric are also compared to static contact angle and other choices of wetting metrics suggested in earlier studies, such as dynamic advancing and receding contact angles, and spreading coefficients. The effects of nanoscale structure and/or roughness on the proposed wetting metric are analyzed in detail. A model is developed that predicts the dependence of the proposed wetting parameter on intrinsic material wettability for rough, nano-structured surfaces. The model results demonstrate that the proposed metric is a more sensitive indicator of macroscopic wetting behavior than apparent contact angle when the surface is superhydrophilic. This characteristic of the proposed new metric is shown to have advantages over other wetting metrics in the specific case of superhydrophilic nanostructured surfaces. Application of the proposed wetting metric is demonstrated for some example nanostructured surfaces. The results of our study indicate that this proposed new metric can be particularly useful for characterizing the effects of variable wetting on vaporization processes on highly wetted nanostructured surfaces.