Scientists create a super waterproof material
Researchers created a new ultra-thin material that may bring a new age of super waterproofing everything, from cooking utensils to vehicles. A liquid-like surface bound to a solid silicone surface lets water droplets glide off with minimal friction. More importantly, it is likely more durable than similar waterproof materials.
You may not think about waterproofing often, but it’s a powerful feature that expands the applications of most devices. For example, a waterproof smartphone lets you capture the magnificence of the Deep Blue while diving. Soon, this super waterproof material could bring us more effective raincoats, boots, and umbrellas.
This article will discuss how this new super waterproof material works. Later, I will cover other scientific projects that have created new materials.
How does this super waterproof material work?
Sakari Lepikko, lead author of the super waterproof material study, and her team discovered liquid-like surfaces could significantly protect objects against liquids. These surfaces consist of an ultra-thin liquid layer of water-resistant molecules bonded to a solid surface of silicone underneath.
The liquid layer lets water slide off the surface with minimal friction. “Our work is the first time that anyone has gone directly to the nanometer-level to create molecularly heterogeneous surfaces,” said doctoral researcher Sakari Lepikko.
“It was counterintuitive that even low coverage yielded exceptional slipperiness,” he added. Newsweek said the low concentrations turn the water into a film over the silicone’s surface.
Previously, a thin liquid layer might increase friction between water and the silicone surface. “We found that, instead, water flows freely between the molecules of the [liquid-like surface] at low [liquid-like molecule] coverage, sliding off the surface,” Lepikko said.
“And when the [liquid-like molecule] coverage is high, the water stays on top of the [liquid-like surface] and slides off just as easily. It’s only in between these two states that water adheres to the [liquid-like molecules] and sticks to the surface.”
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Other super waterproof materials disperse quickly after physical contact. Fortunately, the newly discovered material could make them more durable than ever.
“Our counterintuitive mechanism is a new way to increase droplet mobility anywhere it’s needed,” the senior author stated. “Things like heat transfer in pipes, de-icing, and anti-fogging are potential uses. It will also help with microfluidics, where tiny droplets need to be moved around smoothly, and with creating self-cleaning surfaces.”
What are the other materials innovations?
Many scientists have been developing new materials, too. For example, Northumbria University and Newcastle University researchers created self-mending clothing material from mushrooms.
They used the Ganoderma lucidum fungus, known as “Reishi” in Japan and “Lingzhi” in China. Using Mycelium-based materials is common in various industries like construction and textile manufacturing. However, production typically kills chlamydospores, spores that help fungi regenerate.
That is why the researchers combined mycelia, chlamydospores, proteins, carbohydrates, and other nutrients in a liquid. It encouraged the growth of a “skin” that people can detach and dry.
Their research paper, Fungal Engineered Living Materials, states, “The results suggest that mycelium materials can survive in dry and oligotrophic environments.” Their production method maintains the chlamydospores, enabling the fungi to grow new hyphae over holes. As a result, their material repairs itself.
Ashley Nguyen created a new hydrogel that could replace animal-derived products. She discovered it accidentally during the COVID-19 lockdown using computer simulations.
The chemistry Ph.D. student searched for molecules that self-assemble and stumbled upon the concept of “tryptophan zippers.” These are short amino acid chains with multiple tryptophans that act as a zipper to arrange themselves automatically.
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Nguyen and her colleagues called it “Trpzip.” The lead researcher said, “I was excited to identify a unique peptide sequence using computational simulations that might form a hydrogel.”
“After we returned to the lab, I synthesized the top candidate and was thrilled to see it actually form a gel,” Nguyen added. More importantly, she believes it could be an ethical alternative to animal-derived materials.
“Natural hydrogels are used all over in society—from food processing to cosmetics—but require harvest from animals, which poses ethical concerns,” she stated.
Researchers created a super waterproof material that could expand the applications of future gadgets and appliances. It forms a thin liquid layer that lets water glide off with minimal friction.
Perhaps it could bring us more effective rain protection gear like raincoats and boots. However, it may need more research and development to give it more practical applications.
Gain more information about the super waterproof material study on the Nature Chemistry webpage. Check out more digital tips and trends at Inquirer Tech.