Edinburgh Research Explorer

Glen McHale

Chair of Interfacial Science & Engineering

Willingness to take PhD students: Yes

Education/Academic qualification

1983Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Nottingham
1980Bachelor of Science, University of Nottingham

Professional Qualifications

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, FHEA
Fellowship of the Institute of Physics, F.Inst.P
Fellowship of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, FRSA
Member of the International Society of Bionic Engineering, MISBE
Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, SMIEEE


To be part of a School that helps students and staff to grow and fulfil their aspirations, to provide inspiration of what can be achieved in life, and to gain skills and knowledge relevant to the world around us is an absolute privilege.

Before I went to University I wasn't sure whether I wanted to be an engineer, a scientist or a mathematician, but eventually I became a bit of all of these. At University I started by studying Physics and Electronics - a legacy of a hobby building radios - but my interest was grabbed by the strange ideas of quantum theory and relativity. I was able to transfer to Mathematical Physics in which I gained a First class degree from the University of Nottingham.

A few years later I completed a PhD in Applied Mathematics and started work as a Theoretical Physicist. I had always had a blind spot for languages and so I applied to The Royal Society for a European Fellowship to go to the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris so that I could immerse myself in the language and culture - when not working. In Paris, I was drawn into Computing - a subject then in its infancy - and so with a mixture of electronics, physics, maths and computing, I came back to the UK to Nottingham Trent as Lecturer in Applied Physics and Instrumentation.

As a lecturer I spent many happy years sitting alongside students in labs helping them to get experiments to work, or in chats between lectures discussing why one way of thinking about an idea might work, but another might not. Increasingly, my own research interests developed and I found myself working alongside biotechnologists, materials scientists, electrical engineers, chemical engineers, fluid dynamicists and many others. I found that my own skills could add to their perspectives to help find solutions to their real problems - something all engineers do. Along the way I developed a multidisciplinary applied science and engineering group that became recognized as world-leading in understanding and manipulating how liquids interact with solids.

In Nottingham, I also became a Professor, Head of Subject, and Head of Research (Science & Technology) before joining Northumbria in 2012 as Dean of the School Computing, Engineering and Information Science. In 2013, I became Executive Dean of the new Faculty of Engineering & Environment and in 2019 I  assumed leadership for the University's submission to the 2021 Research Excellence Framework as PVC (REF).

In 2020, I started a new adventure when I joined the School of Engineering at The University of Edinburgh as Chair in Interfacial Science & Engineering and Director of Chemical Engineering.


  • Mathematical Physics BSc (Hons) First Class (University of Nottingham, 1983)
  • Applied Mathematics PhD (University of Nottingham, 1986)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts (FRSA, 2017)
  • Chartered Physicist (CPhys) and Fellow Institute of Physics (FInstP, 2002)
  • Fellow (FHEA) Higher Education Academy (HEA, 2007)
  • Senior Member Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers (SMIEEE, 2002)
  • Member of the International Society of Bionic Engineering (MISBE, 2019)


Year 4 Chemical Engineering Study Project

Research Interests

Areas of research include smart and advanced materials, functional surfaces, static and dynamic wetting of surfaces (theory and experiment) and acoustic waves (fundamentals and sensor applications. These are encompassed within three key themes,

  • Interfacial Science and Engineering
  • Smart Materials and Surfaces
  • Wetting and Dewetting

Applications include heat and mass transfer, evaporation and condensation, friction and drag reduction, and fluid dynamics and microfluidic systems.

Current Research Interests

Research Themes:

  • Nature-Inspired Surface Engineering: Natural surfaces, such as the Lotus Leaf and Nepenthes Pitcher plant, and natural systems such as galling aphids, are used as inspiration for self-cleaning, phase change (evaporation and condensation) systems, anti-fouling and anti-icing/de-icing;
  • Wetting, Dewetting and Fluids: Video-microscopy and flow systems are used to study the interaction and evolution of liquids on surfaces. These surfaces have different geometries (planar, fiber, etc), can be smooth or patterned and can be smart and functional surfaces;
  • Superhydrophobic, Superwetting and Slippery Surfaces: Lithography, electrodeposition and etching to sculpture surfaces at the nano- and micro-level is used to obtain extreme water repellency, imbibition beyond that which chemistry alone can deliver or superslippery lubricant impregnated surfaces (SLIPS) which reduce friction and drag increasing efficiency and minimising energy loss;
  • Electrowetting, Dielectrowetting and Liquid Optics: Liquid surfaces are shaped and droplets are controlled using electrostatic forces to create programmable diffraction gratings and lenses;
  • Acoustic and Surface Acoustic Wave Sensors: High frequency vibrations of quartz crystal microbalances (QCMs) and surface acoustic wave devices (SAWs) are used to probe liquid properties, and the solid-liquid and solid-vapour interfaces with selectivity achieved via surface coatings.

Selected Publications:

  1. McHale, G., Ledesma-Aguilar, R. & Wells, G. G. Interfacial Strategies for Smart Slippery Surfaces. J. Bionic Eng. 17, 633–643 (2020).
  2. Armstrong, S., McHale, G., Ledesma-Aguilar, R. & Wells, G. G. Pinning-Free Evaporation of Sessile Droplets of Water from Solid Surfaces. Langmuir 35, 2989–2996 (2019).
  3. Li, J. et al. Topological Liquid Diode. Sci. Adv. 3, eaao3530 (2017).
  4. McHale, G. Wetting Properties of Surfaces and Drag Reduction. in Non-wettable Surfaces: Theory, Preparation and Applications (eds. Ras, R. & Marmur, A.) 253–279 (Royal Society of Chemistry, 2017).
  5.  Wells, G. G., Ledesma-Aguilar, R., McHale, G. & Sefiane, K. A Sublimation Heat Engine. Nat. Commun. 6, 6390 (2015).
  6. McHale, G., Brown, C. V. & Sampara, N. Voltage-induced Spreading and Superspreading of Liquids. Nat. Commun. 4, 1605 (2013).

Current/Recent Research Funding:

  1. EP/S023836/1 EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Renewable Energy Northeast Universities (ReNU) (P)
  2. EP/R036837/1 Dynamic Dewetting: Designing and Breaking Novel Morphologies of Liquid Films (P)
  3. EP/P005896/1 New Engineering Concepts from Phase Transitions: A Leidenfrost Engine (P)
  4. EP/P018998/1 Thin Film Acoustic Wave Platform for Conformable and Mechanically Flexible Biosensors (C)
  5. EP/L026899/1  Lubricating Channel and Tube Flows - Fluid Sheathing using Textured Walls             (P)
  6. EP/K014803/1 Dielectrowetting: Controlling Oleo- and Hydrophilicity and Shaping Liquid Surfaces (P)
  7. EP/I016414/1  Smart Materials - Designing for Functionality (P)
  8. EP/H000704/1 Particle based superhydrophobic surfaces: Lab models-to-field sample behaviour (P)
  9. EP/G057265/1 Engineering of surfaces for drag reduction in water with validation using computational and experimental methods (P)


Positions available

Enquiries are welcome from potential PhD students

Visiting and Research Positions

  • Member of the EPSRC Peer Review College
  • International Conference Advisory Boards: Nature Inspired Surface Engineering (NISE), Electrowetting Workshop Series, Droplets Conference Series.
  • Member of the Advisory Board for the Key Lab in Bionic Engineering, Jilin University, China
  • REF2014 Sub-Panel Member UoA13 Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials

Administrative Roles

Director of Discipline - Chemical Engineering

Highlighted research outputs

  1. Bidirectional Motion of Droplets on Gradient Liquid Infused Surfaces

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  2. A sublimation heat engine

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  3. Planar selective Leidenfrost propulsion without physically structured substrates or walls

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

View all (100) »

Research activities & awards

  1. Switchable Wetting to Define and Control Liquid Shapes and Instabilities

    Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesOral presentation

  2. Droplets on Shaped Liquid and Electrically Switchable Surfaces

    Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk

  3. Uni and Bi Directional Droplet Transport

    Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesOral presentation

View all (43) »

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