Scientists at Brigham Young University have developed the most extremely waterproof substance to date, a surface so hydrophobic that water bounces off of it. That’s right: Water will bounce if you do enough science to it.
Julie Crockett is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at BYU, and she and colleague Dan Maynes are responsible for developing the super-hydrophobic surface that makes water bounce. They say it’s “extremely difficult to get wet,” but from the looks of a video of the substance in action, that looks like an understatement.
So how exactly do you get water to bounce? Crockett and Maynes’ work involves creating a surface with a pattern of microscopic ridges or posts by etching patterns onto CD-sized wafers such as Teflon. Adding a hydrophobic (think “stain-free jeans” not “Cousin Eugene who almost drowned that Labor Day Weekend”) coating ups the effect even more, and you can see the results in the video.
What do you do once you’ve created such a surface with such a range of potential applications? Why, you film it in action in super-slow-mo, of course. Crocket and Maynes used ultra-high-speed cameras to document the way water acts when it hits the surface. They’ve dropped the water on, jetted it onto the surface, and boiled it, and they filmed it all. For science; not because they were bored. All for science.
This isn’t just about making a cool, physics-bending video, though – although that is a perfectly good scientific goal and you should be ashamed for not thinking it so. The two researchers say that there are a ton of applications for a super-hydrophobic surface. Self-cleaning solar panels, showers that resist hard water spots, more durable ship hulls, and airplane wings that resist icing are just a few of the possible places this work could pop up in the future.
“These surfaces enable products that cannot be contaminated or dirtied, even under very messy operations. They can also radically improve the efficiency of a major element of electrical power plants and desalinization plants to create clean drinking water. They can improve the ability to convert solar energy to electricity by always maintaining pristine glass surfaces that protect the photovoltaic cells.” — Dan Maynes, BYU Professor of Mechanical Engineering
There’s also a possible clean energy avenue, as the pair say that using super-hydrophobic surfaces in coal and natural gas plants could lower the time and cost of generating power.
“If you have these surfaces, the fluid isn’t attracted to the condenser wall, and as soon as the steam starts condensing to a liquid, it just rolls right off,” Crockett said. “And so you can very, very quickly and efficiently condense a lot of gas.”
We’ll admit we have no idea what she’s talking about, but it sounds just Science enough to work.
Of course, though, the water-bouncing material will probably just find its way into a new pair of Dockers or the next generation of iPhone. Also valid uses for science. Totally.