SCIENCE
01/22/2015 08:16 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Scientists Make Metal So Waterproof That Droplets Simply Bounce Off

Step aside, Teflon. Physicists at the University of Rochester have found a way to make metal so resistant to water that any droplets that fall on it simply bounce off like tiny basketballs.

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Apart from being freaky to watch in action, the first-of-its kind material may have important applications--from making better devices for collecting rainwater in water-scarce developing countries, to improving the sanitation of toilets, to making airplane wings and solar panels resistant to rusting or icing over.

How did the scientists create this seemingly magical material? They used a powerful laser to etch minute micro- and nanoscale patterns onto brass, titanium, and platinum.

The process takes a while--up to a full hour to treat a single square inch of metal--but it's said to have key advantages over chemical coatings like Teflon, which can wear away.

"Our surface has many advantages over the coatings out there," Dr. Chunlei Guo, a professor at the university's Institute of Optics, says in a video describing the research (see below). "First, our surface has a much stronger hydrophobic effect than the coatings, and secondly, we don't have to worry about coatings peeling off and the surface degrading over time."

Before trying to commercialize the process, the researchers plan to try the laser patterning technique on non-metallic materials--and look for ways to speed up the etching process.

The research was published online Jan. 20 in the Journal of Applied Physics.

Check out the video below to learn more about the research.

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