If you’ve ever lost power because of an ice storm bringing down your electrical lines, you’ll appreciate this new technology from researchers at New York’s University of Rochester.
Working on the microscale and nanoscale, the scientists used powerful lasers to etch parallel groves onto metal surfaces about 0.1mm apart, the BBC reports. The result? “The material is so strongly water-repellent, the water actually gets bounced off,” Rochester optics professor Chunlei Guo says in a news release. “Then it lands on the surface again, gets bounced off again, and then it will just roll off from the surface.” Check out the jaw-dropping videos below.
Unlike other materials that have hydrophobic qualities (such as non-stick Teflon pans) the slippery nature of this surface won’t peel off or degrade over time since it’s not reliant on a chemical coating — meaning that it’s eco-friendly, too.
Much like how lotus leaves stay clean in muddy water, this metal is also self-cleaning. The Rochester team found that when water drops onto the metal, the droplets take dust off with it.
The laser treatment has been successfully used on platinum, titanium and brass, aluminum and stainless steel.
The applications could be limitless: from boats and planes to solar panels and smartphones — basically anything that you want to keep dry or don’t want to rust or freeze over. “Some potential applications for anti-icing surfaces include protection of aerofoils, power transmission lines, pipes of air conditioners and refrigerators, and radar or telecommunication antennas,” the research team writes in the Journal of Applied Physics.
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It can also be used for sanitation purposes. “We wanted to create this super hydrophobic surface that will not only repel water but also repels water containing waste materials,” professor Guo explains in the video below. One possible outcome? A toilet that requires little to no water to flush, while remaining clean and dry. The Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation, which has provided $620,000 in funding for the project, is particularly interested in this aspect, USA Today reports.
Before we get too excited about electrical lines and solar panels that never have ice freeze on them, it’s important to note that it’s going to take some time before the technology becomes widespread. According to the press release, one hour is needed to etch a square inch of the metal.