A new substance that can repel just about everything was recently showcased by researchers from the University of Michigan. They are calling the substance an “omniphobic” material since it can repel a wide array of substances ranging from water, alcohols, and oils. The bold innovation opens up a lot of interesting new possibilities as the substance can be used to keep items water-proof and stain-resistant.

This new substance was a result of a series of experiments from the laboratory of Professor Anish Tuteka, a U-M associate professor in Material Science and Engineering. Previously, the team was able to create a durable coating that was completely water resistant and could repel both ice and water. They were also able to create an omniphobic coating but it was too fragile for practical use. This new omniphobic coating is the first of its kind to be both durable and clear while still being able to repel any liquid that it comes in contact with.

Omniphobic Coating Promises to Repel (Almost) Anything

According to Tuteja, the previous approach done by scientists was to take a very repellant substance and combine it with a very durable substance. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that it will necessarily produce both a durable and repellant substance. The laboratory focused on a property known as partial miscibility which is the ability of two substances to mix together. Substances combined this way turn out to be more durable compared to their individual counterparts. Another problem was that most repellant substances can resist most liquids because of the high surface tension. However, liquids with low surface tensions like oils and alcohols will still stick to the substance.

Sure, smartphones are great, but they’re also breeding grounds for pathogens

The challenge to the team was to tweak the miscibility of various substances while still making it clear and smooth so that it can repel any liquid. They compound must also be able to stay smooth so that it can be applied easily. According to Tuteja, they will need a combination of substances that doesn’t interact to any form of liquids but must also mix well since too much phase separation between the two substances will scatter light and make the coating optically opaque.

The researchers discovered that a special mix of fluorinated polyurethane and a fluid-repellant molecule known as F-POSS can make for a perfect omniphobic coating. The substance can easily be sprayed, brushed, or applied to any sort of surface. It binds easily and produces a clear coating that repels any kind of liquid and fluids. A sharp object can scratch the coating but it is durable enough for daily use.

Your Smartphone and Pathogens

 This new liquid-proof coating opens up tons of possibilities as it can be used for all sorts of daily objects. It can be used to waterproof walls and tiles so that spills and stains can easily be cleaned. This is important in places where cleanliness and sterility are important as water is a perfect breeding ground for microorganisms.

When used on our tech gadgets, not only will the items be completely water-resistant but the rate and transfer of infection can be greatly reduced as well. Studies have discovered that smartphones carry tons of bacteria and viruses as they are used and touched quite frequently and placed on different kinds of surface tops. The sweat and smudges that are left behind by the hand becomes a huge breeding ground for pathogens. By making our phones completely water-resistant, sweat and other liquids won’t stick to the surface therefore minimizing the potential for infection.

Tuteja believes that the coating can become inexpensive to produce in the future. Flourinated polyurethane is actually a very cheap and common substance. The F-POSS is expensive to manufacture but he is confident that manufacturers can scale it up and mass-produce the substance in the near future.