Imaging the Condensation and Evaporation of Molecularly Thin Films of Water with Nanometer Resolution

Science  14 Apr 1995:
Vol. 268, Issue 5208, pp. 267-269
DOI: 10.1126/science.268.5208.267


The polarization force between an electrically charged atomic force microscope tip and a substrate has been used to follow the processes of condensation and evaporation of a monolayer of water on mica at room temperature. Condensation proceeds in two distinct structural phases. Up to about 25 percent humidity, the water film grows by forming two-dimensional clusters of less than a few 1000 angstroms in diameter. Above about 25 percent humidity, a second phase grows, forming large two-dimensional islands with geometrical shapes in epitaxial relation with the underlaying mica lattice. The growth of this second water phase is completed when the humidity reaches about 45 percent. The reverse process of evaporation has also been imaged.