University of Central Florida (UCF) scientists have developed a new nanomaterial coating that repels water and stays dry even when submerged underwater.
According to the scientists, the discovery of this new nanomaterial could pave way for more efficient water-repellent surfaces, fuel cells and electronic sensors that detect toxins.
The team led by UCF professor Debashis Chanda was in particular inspired by nature and evolution of certain plants and biological species, and these came in handy while designing their new superhydrophobic coating.
“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,” explains Chanda.
“We took our cues from the structure of a lotus leaf and synthesized nanostructured materials based on molecular crystals of fullerenes.”
Carbon comes in various forms. In special circumstances, 60 or 70 such carbon molecules can bound together to form a cage-like closed structure called ‘fullerenes’.
According to the scientists, these cages can stack on each other to form tall crystals called fullerites. By placing a drop of a gel created from fullerites on any surface, a super water-repellent state is triggered.
According to Chanda, the unique cage-like structure of the gel doesn’t interfere with the original material being treated, which means they preserve their unique functional properties.
This means the new super surface can potentially be used for splitting water, bacterial disinfection, hydrogen generation or electrocatalysis – all of which can be generated in fluid environments.
“For example, the new gel makes splitting electrocatalysis easier, which could lead to more efficient fuel cells,” says Chanda.
“The same gel can lead to better electron acceptors, which are key in developing highly sensitive detectors and sensors for toxic gases. There is a lot of potential. It is quite exciting.”
The scientists further noticed that these fullerite films display extreme water repellency regardless of direction of water flow and even under continuous flow of water over them.
“Even when they are submerged at 2 feet of water for several hours, the films remain dry,” says Chanda.
“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.”
Image and content: University of Central Florida