Encapsulated water: Liquid marbles

‘Hydrophobic’ is usually taken to mean ‘water-fearing’, but hydrophobic grains stick to the surface of water. If the grains forming a hydrophobic surface are loose, rather than fixed, a liquid marble can be formed instead of a superhydrophobic surface.

A droplet of water rolling across the surface becomes encapsulated by the grains. This liquid marble is completely mobile and rolls freely on solid (and water) surfaces.

Liquid ‘marble’ rolling on a surface

Professor Quéré and co-workers have shown that small liquid marbles roll down hill faster than larger ones (see animation, right), which is the opposite of what would be expected for solid marbles.

Slow liquid marble – side view
Fast liquid marble – side view

(Video clips courtesy Professor David Quéré).

Liquid marbles occur naturally and are used by galling aphids as a waste disposal system for the honeydew they secrete – read more about “How Aphids Lose Their Marbles” here.


  • Electrowetting of non-wetting liquids and liquid marbles.
    G. McHale, D.L. Herbertson, S.J. Elliot, N.J. Shirtcliffe and M.I. Newton.
    Langmuir. 23 (2) (2007) 918-924.
  • Liquid Marbles: Principles and applications.
    G. McHale and M.I. Newton.
    Soft Matter. 7 (12) (2011) 5473-5481.