Hydrophobia should sound familiar to you if you’ve seen our article on the walls in Germany that urinate back on people. These materials are able to simply repel any liquid that comes in contact with them. This allows any object covered by a hydrophobic substance to remain perfectly dry even when in contact with water.
[Image Source: J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester]
This technology is not at all that new, if fact, some sprays that protect objects against water have been on the market for quite some time now. However, in most cases they have a downside: the protective layers end up wearing off over time, and not all of them offer an effective protection to begin with.
This is exactly why a project by the University of Rochester promises to be a major step in hydrophobic technology. Their method is a powerful and precise laser-patterning technique that creates an intricate pattern of micro and nanoscale structures to give the metals their new hydrophobic properties.
“The material is so strongly water-repellent, the water actually gets bounced off. Then it lands on the surface again, gets bounced off again, and then it will just roll off from the surface,” said Guo, professor of optics in the University’s Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The whole process takes less than a second.”
As impressive as it is, the fact that this material is not the result of a special coating on the metal, but rather a laser-patterning technique, makes it everlasting since it will never wear off.
The possible uses to this new technology are endless. Basically, any metal surface can become water-resistant, which means we can protect many of our personal electronics for example, including phones, cameras, tablets and computers.
Another interesting use for this is in aircraft technology, as this would protect the surfaces from accumulating water that could freeze. There are even ideas being developed for a system of water collection and purification in developing countries. “In these regions, collecting rain water is vital and using super-hydrophobic materials could increase the efficiency without the need to use large funnels with high-pitched angles to prevent water from sticking to the surface,” says Guo. “A second application could be creating latrines that are cleaner and healthier to use.”
Check out more on Guo and Vorobyev’s work in the University of Rochester video and their paper which was published in the Journal of Applied Physics. The project was also funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.