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Grime proofing everything

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Grimy, sticky fingers everywhere on everything, germs, viruses it’s enough to make you sick, literally. But thanks to science we’re entering a new age of cleanliness with the discovery of a new anti-everything coating.

In an advance that could grime-proof phone screens, countertops, tablets, doorknobs... materials science researchers have invented a smooth, durable, clear coating that swiftly sheds water, oils, alcohols, everything.

Called ‘omniphobic’, the new coating repels just about every known liquid and is the first that's durable and clear and easily applied to virtually any surface.

By mapping out the properties of a huge library of substances, the researchers from the University of Michigan are able to mathematically predict how any two will behave when they're combined. This enables them to concoct a nearly endless variety of combinations with very specifically tailored properties.

You can repel water with a rough surface that creates tiny pockets of air between the water and the surface, but those surfaces don't always repel oils or alcohols because of their lower surface tension.

The new coating has a very smooth surface that doesn’t interact much with a variety of liquids. It is a mix of fluorinated polyurethane and a specialised fluid-repellent molecule called F-POSS.

The coating can be sprayed, brushed, dipped or spin-coated onto a wide variety of surfaces, where it binds tightly. While the surface can be scratched by a sharp object, it's durable in everyday use and it’s optically clear.

The repellent and binder mix together well enough to make a clear coating, but there's a very small amount of phase separation between them. That separation allows the F-POSS to sort of float to the surface and create a nice repellent layer.

As its major ingredient is fluorinated polyurethane which isn’t expensive and very common the coating will be inexpensive by the time it sees the mass market. F-POSS is expensive today but manufacturers are in the process of scaling it up to mass production, which should lower its cost.

The research team is also doing further studies to ensure that the coating is nontoxic for use in places like daycare centres. The coating could go to market within the next two years, and it's believed childproof coatings are just the beginning.

The coating could also be used in refrigeration, power generation and oil refining – all industries that depend on the condensation of liquids. The new coating could enable equipment to slough off condensed water and chemicals more quickly, increasing efficiency by up to 20%.

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