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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > The Future of Nanotechnology > The Science of Superhydrophobic Coating: Water Resistant Tech, Only Better

Amanda Richter

Abstract:
If you have ever witnessed water droplets rebound from the leaf of a lotus plant in a perfect spherical shape, then you have witnessed the beauty of nature's flawless water repellent design. It is this perfection that scientists at Rice University and the universities of Swansea, Bristol and Nice Sophia Antipolis sought to emulate in the creation of a new superhydrophobic material, one that may provide a simpler, less expensive, more environmentally friendly method of producing waterproof products.

June 8th, 2016

The Science of Superhydrophobic Coating: Water Resistant Tech, Only Better

If you have ever witnessed water droplets rebound from the leaf of a lotus plant in a perfect spherical shape, then you have witnessed the beauty of nature's flawless water repellent design. It is this perfection that scientists at Rice University and the universities of Swansea, Bristol and Nice Sophia Antipolis sought to emulate in the creation of a new superhydrophobic material, one that may provide a simpler, less expensive, more environmentally friendly method of producing waterproof products.

How It Works
The lotus leaf gets its water-resistant features from the papillae that compose the leaf's skin and the epicuticular waxes that coat it. On a chemical level, these features create highly branched double structures which generate the leaf's water resistant abilities.

The nanotech science behind the superhydrophobic mimics the lotus leaf. The material requires an assemblage of aluminum oxide nanoparticles coated by carboxylic acids, Rice University reports. The acids' hydrocarbon chains branch out over the nanoparticles creating a spiked microsurface. The rough outer armor captures air, which limits the degree of contact that water droplets have with the surface, causing the moisture to slip off the surface.

According to Swansea University, to qualify as superhydrophobic, a substance needs to possess at least a 150 degrees water contact angle, the angle where the materials' surface meets the water's surface. Essentially, 0 degrees is a small pooling of water with 180 degrees, the max angle, defining the point at which the water becomes a sphere when it makes contact with the surface. Most water-resistant materials achieve the 150 degree angle but the new material has improved the contact angle to 155 degrees, increasing a coated product's durability, Rice University adds.

Advantages of Superhydrophobic Material
The water repellent material is non-toxic and can be administered to surfaces through spray coating or spin coating. Since the material is hydrocarbon-based, its creators speculate that it can be used as a substitute for the fluorocarbon-based material commonly used in water repellent products, which have a tendency to wear, decreasing the hydrophobic abilities and increasing the likelihood of contamination. The fluorocarbon variety of hydrophobic coating not only possesses hazardous and toxic properties, but is also considerably more expensive than the new material.

The advantages of new hydrophobic materials are impressive. Besides being water-repellent, when used as a coating, the material has anti-microbal, anti-fouling, anti-corrosion, de-icing and self-cleaning properties. For these reasons, superhydrophobic coating has found relevance in several industries. In consumer products, the material is used to to manufacture items such as boots, sandals, sunglasses and sleeping bags.

Uses and applications
The material has found use in the construction industry as well as in the manufacturing and water proofing of electronics, particularly cellphones. In environments where electronics are at risk of moisture exposure, such as a gym, pool area or bathroom, the superhydrophobic nanotech has increased the likelihood of electronic survival. For products that make contact with the skin, such as cellphones, hearing aids and headphones, the superhydrophobic material creates a barrier between the device and sweat.

The global market forecasts an increase of half a billion dollars by 2020 on superhydrophobic materials, PR Newswire reports. As research continues to perfect the material's adhesive properties, new uses and applications continue to arise for superhydrophobic materials in more and more industries.

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