Brace yourselves – this is actually a pretty big deal. Last week, researchers out of the University of Rochester used laser etching methods to create unique patterns that made metal surfaces extremely hydrophobic i.e. water-repellant.
Unlike chemical treatments like Teflon-coatings or Ultra-Ever Dry, they claim that this material is much more rugged and long-lasting. In addition, it derives these properties from design, not chemistry, making them (theoretically) cheap to create and applicable to a variety of materials.
Forever-dry iPhones anyone?
The paper written by Dr. Chunlei Guo and Dr. Anatoliy Vorobyev describes the creation of ‘hierarchical nano/microstructure’ utilizing femtosecond laser pulses. The surfaces go beyond just repelling water, but also ‘dramatically enhance broadband absorption and self-cleaning.’ In other words, treated materials completely absorb light and keep themselves clean. The technology reminds me of my last cat, which was black, loved to absorb stray sunlight and was self-cleaning.
From both engineering and design perspectives, the possibilities for superhydrophobic metal are seemingly endless. Aesthetically, non-reflective metal surfaces are particularly appealing. Think of a matte metal table that repels water, stays clean and doesn’t annoyingly reflect ceiling light.
Personally, the degradation and wear are what I am most curious about, as that is the biggest drawback of all hydrophobic materials. The paper notes, “In our study, we repeatedly perform 20 cleanings on the superhydrophobic surface and did not observe any degradation of the self-cleaning effect.” Another interesting use was the improved absorption of light energy for the use in Solar Energy systems, noting “our work enables metals to absorb solar energy more efficiently for conversion to electricity in devices such as thermoelectric generators or conversion to heat in devices such as solar hot water tanks.”.