Superomniphobic Surface : A Material that Most Liquids Won’t Wet

We’ve seen lots of hydrophobic materials before, but these water- and liquid-repelling materials often work within constraints. Some liquids bounce or wick away, while others–based on properties like viscosity or surface tension, or whether the substance in questions is organic or inorganic–are not affected by the hydrophobic qualities of the material. But a team of University of Michigan materials science is reporting a breakthrough : a superomniphobic coating that is resistant to pretty much any liquid we know of. 

A nanoscale coating that’s at least 95 percent air repels the broadest range of liquids of any material in its class, causing them to bounce off the treated surface, according to the University of Michigan engineering researchers who developed it.

An uncoated tile of screen is wetted by liquids, but a treated piece remains dry. University of Michigan researchers have developed a "superomniphobic" surface that can repel virtually any liquid. (Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engg Communications & Marketing)
An uncoated tile of screen is wetted by liquids, but a treated piece remains dry. University of Michigan researchers have developed a “superomniphobic” surface that can repel virtually any liquid. (Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engg Communications & Marketing)

In addition to super stain-resistant clothes, the coating could lead to breathable garments to protect soldiers and scientists from chemicals, and advanced waterproof paints that dramatically reduce drag on ships. Droplets of solutions that would normally damage either your shirt or your skin recoil when they touch the new “superomniphobic surface.”

“Virtually any liquid you throw on it bounces right off without wetting it. For many of the other similar coatings, very low surface tension liquids such as oils, alcohols, organic acids, organic bases and solvents stick to them and they could start to diffuse through and that’s not what you want,” said Anish Tuteja, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, chemical engineering and macromolecular science and engineering. Tuteja is the corresponding author of a paper on the coating published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The paper is titled “Superomniphobic Surfaces for Effective Chemical Shielding.” Doctoral student Shuaijun Pan and postdoctoral researcher Arun Kota, both in materials science and engineering, are the first authors of the paper. Also contributing is Joseph Mabry, in the rocket propulsion division of the Air Force Research Laboratory. The work is funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

The new coating can repel virtually any liquid and could lead to breathable protective wear for soldiers and scientists, as well as stain-proof garments. In this demonstration, it repels coffee.
The new coating can repel virtually any liquid and could lead to breathable protective wear for soldiers and scientists, as well as stain-proof garments. In this demonstration, it repels coffee.

Tuteja and his colleagues tested more than 100 liquids and found only two that were able to penetrate the coating. They were chlorofluorocarbons—chemicals used in refrigerators and air conditioners. In Tuteja’s lab, in a demonstration, the surface repelled coffee, soy sauce and vegetable oil, as well as toxic hydrochloric and sulfuric acids that could burn skin. Tuteja says it’s also resistant to gasoline and various alcohols.

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