In 2016, we brought you news of a water-repelling nano-coating technology that could make any device waterproof. It was at the time mostly used to protect electronics. Then in 2018, researchers developed a safer nontoxic coating that could make fabrics water-repellant.
Now, researchers at the University of Central Florida have engineered a novel nanomaterial that repels water and can stay dry even when submerged underwater. The team was led by Debashis Chanda, a professor at UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center, who claimed he was inspired by nature and the evolution of certain plants and biological species to create the new nanomaterial.
“Being water repellent or hydrophobicity is nature’s tool to protect and self-clean plants and animals against pathogens like fungi, algae growth, and dirt accumulation,” Chanda explained in a statement. “We took our cues from the structure of a lotus leaf and synthesized nanostructured materials based on molecular crystals of fullerenes.”
Fullerenes (C60 and C70) are created by combining carbon molecules to form a cage-like closed structure. These structures can then stack on each other to form tall crystals called fullerites.
All it takes is one drop of a gel created from fullerites on any surface to develop a super water-repellent state. Better yet, the gel doesn’t interfere with the original material being treated.
Previously reported hydrophobic surfaces did not remain dry when submerged underwater for more than a few minutes at a certain water depth. That is what makes the new material so groundbreaking.
“Even when they are submerged at 2 feet (60.9 cm) of water for several hours, the films remain dry. We even found that they can capture and store gases underwater in the form of plastrons — a form of trapped bubbles mimicking the miraculous alkali fly of California’s Mono Lake," Chanda concluded.
As such, the novel material has countless applications. The study is published in the journal Advanced Materials.