April showers bring May flowers. But they also bring a lot of headaches, like soggy shoes and waterlogged smartphones. However, a recent innovation in nanotechnology could help dry out your springtime worries.
Mark Shaw, inventor and president of UltraTech International, Inc., recently spoke to a TED audience about his company’s newest product — Ultra Ever Dry — a "superhydrophobic" coating that acts as a shield against water and water-based materials. "Hydrophobic" essentially means "water repelling."
Spraying a material with superhydrophobic nano-particles, like the ones present in Ultra EverDry, creates a rough surface, full of tiny spaces between particles. And these interstitial spaces, along with the nanoparticles themselves, “reach up and grab” air particles, according to Shaw. The coating creates an “umbrella of air” across the surface of a material that water cannot penetrate.
Shaw’s company may work with tiny particles — about 50,000 nano-particles is equal to the width of one human hair — but these particles can be manipulated to create some big improvements in common materials.
Shaw told the TED audience that Ultra EverDry can be used not only for waterproofing materials, but also for any anti-icing, anti-corrosion, anti-bacterial or self-cleaning applications. [See also: Never Scrape Again: Windshield Coating Repels Frost ]
The air barrier that the superhydrophobic coatings create can also keep out all water-based materials, like ice, mud, concrete and paint.
A coat of Ultra EverDry can protect engine parts and other machinery from corrosion, keep concrete from hardening on the inside of concrete trucks, and prevent icing on stairs, railings and catwalks.
According to Ultra Tech’s website, the coating can be used on almost any material, including steel, aluminum, plastic, leather, fabric and wood.
And while the nanotechnology behind coatings like Ultra EverDry is fairly new, hydrophobic materials have been around forever. In fact, it was the water-repelling leaves of the lotus plant that first got scientists thinking.
But superhydrophobic materials — or surfaces that are extremely difficult to wet — have recently become more popular commercially, partially because of the increased demand for waterproof electronic devices.
Shaw doesn’t recommend the use of his company’s product on smartphones and other electronic devices because the coating isn’t completely transparent.
However, there are other options for those who want to waterproof electronics without the use of a bulky case. Liquipel, a transparent superhydrophobic coating for smartphones and other personal devices, will keep your phone or tablet dry even in a bucket of water.
However, if you want to treat your device with Liquipel, you’ll have to pack it up and ship it to Liquipel’s headquarters in California. Turn around time is fairly quick — one to two days if you choose the priority package — but it’ll set you back $70.00, plus the cost of shipping your beloved device to the west coast.