Keeping the things we touch clean is not always easy, and keeping things kids touch clean is even harder. To address this, researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new omniphobic material that is durable and transparent. Being omniphobic means it will repel water, oils, alcohols, and apparently even peanut butter.
Omniphobic materials have been made before, but this one stands out because it is durable and clear as well, which are two properties that were a challenge to achieve. One might think that if you want a material to be both hydrophobic and oleophobic, you can just mix two with those properties, but materials science is far from that easy. Achieving the desired durability required consideration of partial miscibility, which concerns how well two substances mix, and the better they mix the more durable the result. To find the right chemicals to mix, the researchers also turned to a new approach for identifying chemicals with desirable properties. Traditionally researchers would just mix chemicals together to see what they get, but thanks to the extensive libraries of already studied materials and powerful computers, we have the ability to mathematically predict the properties of new materials and mixtures.
Ultimately the researchers found a mix of fluorinated polyurethane and F-POSS, a repellent molecule does the job while being clear and durable. While fluorinated polyurethane is already inexpensive, F-POSS is not, but manufacturers are in the process of scaling up to mass production, which will reduce the cost significantly. For now the researchers want to confirm the coating is nontoxic, so it could find use in daycare centers and similar, but eventually we could see it come to market in the next two years.
Source: University of Michigan
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