Researchers from the University of Michigan recently showcased a new substance that can repel just about everything. They are calling the element an omniphobic coating since it can resist a wide array of materials ranging from water, alcohols, and oils. The bold innovation opens up a lot of exciting new possibilities as the omniphobic coating 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 ultimately water-resistant and could repel both ice and water. They were also able to develop 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 precise 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 very durable material. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that it will necessarily produce both a permanent and repellant content. The laboratory focused on a property known as partial miscibility, which is the ability of two materials to mix. Substances combined this way turn out to be more durable compared to their counterparts. Another problem was that most repellant substances could resist most liquids because of the high surface tension. However, liquids with low surface tensions like oils and alcohols will still stick to the material.
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. The 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 don’t interact to any form of liquids but must also mix well since too much phase separation between the two materials will scatter light and make the coating optically opaque.
The researchers discovered that a unique mix of fluorinated polyurethane and a fluid-repellant molecule known as F-POSS could make for a perfect omniphobic coating. The substance can easily be sprayed, brushed, or applied to any surface. It binds easily and produces a clear coating that repels any liquid and fluids. A sharp object can scratch the coat, but it is durable enough for daily use.
Your Smartphone and Pathogens
This new liquid-proof coating opens up tons of possibilities as they 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 essential 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 significantly 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 become a vast 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. Fluorinated polyurethane is 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 material shortly.