Date of Award

Fall 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Suresh V. Garimella

Second Advisor

Justin A. Weibel

Committee Member 1

Lian Pang


Dropwise condensation of atmospheric water vapor is important in multiple practical engineering applications. The roles of environmental factors and surface morphology/chemistry on the condensation dynamics need to be better understood to enable efficient water-harvesting, dehumidication, and other psychrometric processes. Systems and surfaces that promote faster condensation rates and self-shedding of condensate droplets could lead to improved mass transfer rates and higher water yields in harvesting applications. The thesis presents the design and construction of an experimental facility that allows visualization of the condensation process as a function of relative humidity. Dropwise condensation experiments are performed on a vertically oriented, hydrophobic surface at a controlled relative humidity and surface subcooling temperature. The distribution and growth of water droplets are monitored across the surface at different relative humidities (45%, 50%, 55%, and 70%) at a constant surface subcooling temperature of 15 °C below the ambient temperature. The droplet growth dynamics exhibits a strong dependency on relative humidity in the early stages during which there is a large population of small droplets on the surface and single droplet growth dominates over coalescence effects. At later stages, the dynamics of droplet growth is insensitive to relative humidity due to the dominance of coalescence effects. The overall volumetric rate of condensation on the surface is also assessed as a function of time and ambient relative humidity. Low relative humidity conditions not only slow the absolute rate of condensation, but also prolong an initial transient regime over which the condensation rate remains significantly below the steady-state value. The current state-of-the-art in dropwise condensation research indicates the need for systematic experimental investigations as a function of relative humidity. The improved understanding of the relative humidity effects on the growth of single and distributed droplets offered in this thesis can improve the prediction of heat and mass transfer during dropwise condensation of humid air under differing environmental conditions. This knowledge can be used to engineer condenser systems and surfaces that are adapted for local ambient relative humidity and temperature conditions.