Stain-Proof Material Can Repel Virtually Any Liquid

Liquids rolled or bounced off a new superomniphobic surface. (University of Michigan | Journal of the American Chemical Society)

Military leaders and laundry-plagued mothers both have reason to rejoice over an improvement in the development of liquid-repelling surfaces. For the first time, lab researchers have created a "superomniphobic" coating that resists not only water and juice but everything from blood to hydrochloric acid.

Past coatings focused on resisting Newtonian fluids such as water or apple juice but had more trouble with oils and alcohols. The new coating can handle both Newtonian fluids and non-Newtonian fluids such as blood, yogurt and gravy — paving the way for truly stain-free clothing, suits that shrug off bacteria, even protective garments resistant to corrosive acid.

The new coating combines silicone with an organic-inorganic polymer to become virtually impenetrable by a huge array of liquids. Droplets bead up and roll off the surface. Jets of various liquids simply bounce off at an angle.

Researchers even dipped an aluminum plate into hydrochloric acid to show how the side containing the new coating remained unaffected. By comparison, the unprotected side of the plate was heavily damaged.

The scientific team from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor teamed up with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to create the superomniphobic surface. More details on the study appeared in the Dec. 23 online edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Such results could greatly interest both the military and commercial manufacturers. Funding for the study came from the American Chemical Society's Petroleum Research Fund, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the China Scholarship Council (a Chinese government nonprofit organization that gives financial aid to Chinese students studying abroad).

The Army began looking into similar surfaces last year in the hope of producing uniforms that protect soldiers against biological and chemical threats, shield them from rain or snow, and lighten the laundry loads.

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