Armored Surfaces...

A schematic representation of how the surface looks, and how the structure repels water. Courtesy: Aalto University


Topics: Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Surface Engineering

A micron-scale “armor” that protects highly water-repellent nanostructures from damage has been developed by researchers in China and Finland. The new extra-durable coating could make it possible to employ these “superhydrophobic” surfaces on devices such as solar panels and vehicle windscreens that experience tough environmental conditions.

As their name suggests, superhydrophobic materials repel water extremely well. They owe this impressive ability to a thin layer of air that develops around nanometre-scale structures on their surface. By ensuring that droplets barely touch the solid part of the surface at all, the air layer effectively acts as a lubricant, allowing water droplets to roll off with near-zero friction.

These nanostructured surfaces are, however, mechanically fragile and can easily be wiped away. To address this drawback, a research team led by Xu Deng of the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu and Robin Ras of Finland’s Aalto University created a superhydrophobic surface containing structures at two different length scales: a nanoscale structure that is water repellent and a microscale one that provides durability.

The microstructure consists of an interconnected frame containing “pockets” of tiny inverted pyramids. Within these pyramids are the highly water-repellent and mechanically fragile nanostructures. The frame thus acts as a shield, preventing the nanostructure coating from being removed by abradants larger than the frame. “A finger, screwdriver or even sandpaper glides over these microstructures, leaving the nanostructures untouched, thereby preserving the surface’s attractive water-repellent feature,” Ras says.

Superhydrophobic surfaces toughen up, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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