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Metals Now Water-Repellent With New Laser Technology

Jan 21, 2015 09:16 PM EST

Metal materials now have the potential to be water-repellent thanks to new laser technology developed by scientists at the University of Rochester, new research describes.

Water-repellent, or super-hydrophobic, materials have many potential implications, such as rust prevention, anti-icing, or even in sanitation uses.

Most current hydrophobic materials rely on chemical coatings, but in this new study researchers developed a powerful and precise laser-patterning technique that creates an intricate pattern of micro- and nanoscale structures, giving the metals their water-resistant properties.

"The structures created by our laser on the metals are intrinsically part of the material surface," lead researcher Chunlei Guo added in a statement - meaning it won't rub off.

"The material is so strongly water-repellent, the water actually gets bounced off. Then it lands on the surface again, gets bounced off again, and then it will just roll off from the surface," he explained further.

What one thinks of water-resistant surfaces, you might think of Teflon, commonly used on non-stick frying pans to make sure your scrambled eggs slide right off the pan and onto your plate. But this new technique is better because for Teflon-coated material you need to tilt the surface to nearly a 70-degree angle before the water begins to slide off. But with Guo's team's approach water can roll off metals by tilting them less than five degrees.

The surface also has self-cleaning properties. As water droplets bounce off of it, they pick up dust particles, the researchers say. They found that they could remove about half of the dust particles using only three drops of water.

However, there are still a number of challenges to overcome. For example, it currently takes an hour to pattern a 1 inch by 1 inch (2.5 by 2.5 centimeters) piece of metal. But the researchers are hopeful that they will speed up this process so that it can be used in real world situations.

The results were published in the Journal of Applied Physics.

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