National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network

National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network

Serving Nanoscale Science, Engineering & Technology

The Water Race: Hydrophobic & Hydrophilic Surfaces

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Subject: Biology, Chemistry

Audience: High School

Nonpolar molecules that repel the water molecules are said to be hydrophobic; molecules forming ionic or a hydrogen bond with the water molecule are said to be hydrophilic. This property of water was important for the evolution of life. Hydrophobic interaction plays the most critical roles in the formation of the lipid bilayer of the cell membrane and the folding of proteins and nucleic acids; therefore, hydrophobic interaction is the foundation for the existence of life.

A self-assembled monolayer (SAM) is a layer of organic molecules formed spontaneously on a solid substrate. One end of the organic molecule binds to the solid surface via a covalent bond while the other end points outwards. Because the exposed end of the SAM determines the surface properties of the SAM modified substrate, we can alter a hydrophobic surface (a surface that expels water) into a hydrophilic surface (a surface that attracts water) by carefully selecting the SAM forming molecules.

This lesson requires the use of special chemicals which can be ordered from standard supply houses.