You have no doubt seen footage of water-repellent coatings that seemingly defy the laws of nature. However, they have a catch: they’re often too fragile to be useful in situations where they’re likely to face a lot of abuse — whether it’s the clothes on your back or a ship on the ocean. But researchers from the University of Michigan may finally have a solution that’s tough enough to survive these conditions.
They’ve developed a coating whose combination of fluorinated polyurethane elastomer and a complex, extremely hydrophobic molecule can self-heal “hundreds” of times despite phenomenal levels of abuse. It’ll recover from direct strikes, burns, chemical attacks and even ultrasonic blasts.
The key is the shape at the microscopic level. Previous water-repellent coatings rely on a very specialized but often inflexible geometry that prevents water droplets from seeping in. All it takes is a little damage to ruin that characteristic and leave an object soaking wet. The new material is more flexible and theoretically worse, but it’s less likely to break and can restore itself. You can fine-tune its composition, too, so you can get the best results for a given surface.
There are concrete plans to put this into production. The scientists have formed a company, HygraTek, that aims to commercialize the tech. If it does, the potential uses are far-reaching. Ships could travel faster by reducing their water resistance, and you could waterproof clothes, cars and many other things that go through a lot of punishment. In short, the days of ruined jackets and perpetually dirty windshields might just come to an end.
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