Have you ever noticed that when liquids come into contact with certain surfaces, they spread across it and when they fall onto other surfaces, they tend to separate into small beady like droplets and are not absorbed? The unique properties within a material that regulate the effect of absorption have become super beneficial and will continue to reap new benefits.
The surfaces that seem to mesh with liquids and are wetted by water are called hydrophilic. While those that fail to absorb liquid, causing droplets to form, are referred to as hydrophobic. Here is a short video to demonstrate:
Both hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials have a remarkable impact on the performance of everything from pipes to bridges, aircrafts to power lines and even clothing. The future of these materials could hold glasses that don’t fog up and electronics that are water repellant.
Hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials are defined by interaction of water and a surface. If the droplet spreads and wets the surface, that surface is considered water-loving. If the droplets form a sphere that resists interaction with the surface the surface is water-fearing.
There are also superhydrophobic and superhydrophilic materials. As you can imagine, these materials are super water-fearing and super water-loving respectively. Surface chemistry is the science behind the properties of these materials. One factor that is responsible for the nature of a material.
The shape of a surface is also partially responsible for the material's reaction to water. Through altering the surface pattern of a hydrophobic material, it can be transformed into a superhydrophobic material. Through the nanopatterning of a hydrophilic surface it can also become superhydrophilic.
If scientists were able to utilize hydrophobic materials in a unique way, they could possibly save thousands and thousands each year. They could save through preventing icing on aircrafts and power lines which could save upwards of a billion dollars according to one study by the U.S. Department of Energy. Through utilizing hydrophobic materials, we could also save billions through preventing bridge corrosion, and commercial and residential pipe corrosion.
Nature is filled with both hydrophobic and hydrophilic surfaces, and scientists have been aware of these properties for over 200 years. One example of a naturally occurring superhydrophobic organism is the lotus leaf. On the leaves of the lotus are micro- and nano-scale papillae that are covered by a hydrophobic wax. This structure makes the leaves superhydrophobic and affords a strong contact angle which helps make it all possible. This hydrophobicity keeps both dirt and bacteria off of this plant and protects the water-dwelling plant from becoming waterlogged. Scientists use the term lotus effect coined after the plant to describe the effect of hydrophobicity in materials.
In addition to the lotus leaf, the stenocara beetle of Africa’s Namib Desert, also has hydrophobic qualities but also hydrophilic ones as well. The beetle’s back and wings are hydrophilic while being surrounded by hydrophobic troughs, that collect water and channel them down toward the beetle’s mouth.
Another naturally existing superhydrophobic species is the gecko foot. Because the pads it’s feet are covered with tiny fibers made of keratin, the gecko can strongly stick to a surface while also maintaining the ability to lift its feet quickly so that it can swiftly walk along a surface without falling. The cleanliness necessary for the fibers to remain sticky is possible because the gecko secretes an oil that enables superhydrophobic functionality.
Helpful Superhydrophobic Products
Most everyone has accidentally spilled on their cellphone or laptop, or dropped a similar device into the pool or toilet. Water is detrimental to the functionality of our tech devices and likely will always be; however, a number of companies have been hard at work researching ways to waterproof our devices to protect them both from our clumsiness and from clunky waterproof cell phone cases.
Liquipel has come up with a revolutionary way to waterproof our devices from the elements. Liquipel applies a hydrophobic nanocoating to your devices that completely waterproofs and protects against exposure to liquids. The good news is that the coating is invisible and is practically undetectable. They have promised that their sealant will not “compromise the look, feel, or performance of your electronics.” The coating is supposedly 1000x thinner than a human hair!
If you are interested in protecting your gadgets, simply mail them your device or stop by a local shop in your area. They will apply a water-safe coating to your phone and mail it right back. The main purpose of the product is to help prevent damage in an accidental spill—not necessarily for your next deep sea dive but it has been tested after a phone was dropped to the bottom of a pool and the device was left in tip top shape!
Treatments are now available for cell phones, tablets, MP3 Players, and headphones with prices starting as low as $30! You can also purchase from Liquipel pre-treated devices. The treatments are guaranteed through a 1 year warranty that offers free replacement in the rare case that it fails.
Another great option for a superhydrophobic protection is Rustoleum and NeverWet’s Liquid Repelling Treatment. Kiss water-damaged surfaces goodbye with this product! Though they claim that their product is not intended for clothing or electronic devices, simply search google and you will see a number of examples where this Liquid Repelling Treatment has been super successful in doing just that. This magical product can waterproof nearly any surface or object. and seems to repels water like nothing else.
The silicone-based coating developed by Ross Nanotechnology, doesn’t only protect form liquids but also from ice and mud! Simply apply the two steps of this coating process and you are set!
With this product, your public restrooms could be protected from graffiti and rust could be eliminated. From clot, corrosion, mildew and mold resistance, the possibilities seem endless! One can covers around 10-15 square feet, and can be purchased for around $20 per can.
So there is your science lesson for the day. Hopefully this is helpful in aiding you in protecting your surfaces from damage due to liquids or at least give you an idea for a fun experiment or prank!