Tag Archives: bio-inspired

Killing bacteria on contact with dragonfly-inspired nanocoating

Scientists in Singapore were inspired by dragonflies and cicadas according to a March 28, 2018 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Studies have shown that the wings of dragonflies and cicadas prevent bacterial growth due to their natural structure. The surfaces of their wings are covered in nanopillars making them look like a bed of nails. When bacteria come into contact with these surfaces, their cell membranes get ripped apart immediately and they are killed. This inspired researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR to invent an anti-bacterial nano coating for disinfecting frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, tables and lift buttons.

This technology will prove particularly useful in creating bacteria-free surfaces in places like hospitals and clinics, where sterilization is important to help control the spread of infections. Their new research was recently published in the journal Small (“ZnO Nanopillar Coated Surfaces with Substrate-Dependent Superbactericidal Property”)

Image 1: Zinc oxide nanopillars that looked like a bed of nails can kill a broad range of germs when used as a coating on frequently-touched surfaces. Courtesy: A*STAR

A March 28, 2018 Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*STAR) press release, which originated the news item, describes the work further,

80% of common infections are spread by hands, according to the B.C. [province of Canada] Centre for Disease Control1. Disinfecting commonly touched surfaces helps to reduce the spread of harmful germs by our hands, but would require manual and repeated disinfection because germs grow rapidly. Current disinfectants may also contain chemicals like triclosan which are not recognized as safe and effective 2, and may lead to bacterial resistance and environmental contamination if used extensively.

“There is an urgent need for a better way to disinfect surfaces without causing bacterial resistance or harm to the environment. This will help us to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases from contact with surfaces,” said IBN Executive Director Professor Jackie Y. Ying.

To tackle this problem, a team of researchers led by IBN Group Leader Dr Yugen Zhang created a novel nano coating that can spontaneously kill bacteria upon contact. Inspired by studies on dragonflies and cicadas, the IBN scientists grew nanopilllars of zinc oxide, a compound known for its anti-bacterial and non-toxic properties. The zinc oxide nanopillars can kill a broad range of germs like E. coli and S. aureus that are commonly transmitted from surface contact.

Tests on ceramic, glass, titanium and zinc surfaces showed that the coating effectively killed up to 99.9% of germs found on the surfaces. As the bacteria are killed mechanically rather than chemically, the use of the nano coating would not contribute to environmental pollution. Also, the bacteria will not be able to develop resistance as they are completely destroyed when their cell walls are pierced by the nanopillars upon contact.

Further studies revealed that the nano coating demonstrated the best bacteria killing power when it is applied on zinc surfaces, compared with other surfaces. This is because the zinc oxide nanopillars catalyzed the release of superoxides (or reactive oxygen species), which could even kill nearby free floating bacteria that were not in direct contact with the surface. This super bacteria killing power from the combination of nanopillars and zinc broadens the scope of applications of the coating beyond hard surfaces.

Subsequently, the researchers studied the effect of placing a piece of zinc that had been coated with zinc oxide nanopillars into water containing E. coli. All the bacteria were killed, suggesting that this material could potentially be used for water purification.

Dr Zhang said, “Our nano coating is designed to disinfect surfaces in a novel yet practical way. This study demonstrated that our coating can effectively kill germs on different types of surfaces, and also in water. We were also able to achieve super bacteria killing power when the coating was used on zinc surfaces because of its dual mechanism of action. We hope to use this technology to create bacteria-free surfaces in a safe, inexpensive and effective manner, especially in places where germs tend to accumulate.”

IBN has recently received a grant from the National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, under its Competitive Research Programme to further develop this coating technology in collaboration with Tan Tock Seng Hospital for commercial application over the next 5 years.

1 B.C. Centre for Disease Control

2 U.S. Food & Drug Administration

(I wasn’t expecting to see a reference to my home province [BC Centre for Disease Control].) Back to the usual, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

ZnO Nanopillar Coated Surfaces with Substrate‐Dependent Superbactericidal Property by Guangshun Yi, Yuan Yuan, Xiukai Li, Yugen Zhang. Small https://doi.org/10.1002/smll.201703159 First published: 22 February 2018

This paper is behind a paywall.

One final comment, this research reminds me of research into simulating shark skin because that too has bacteria-killing nanostructures. My latest about the sharkskin research is a Sept, 18, 2014 posting.

A gripping problem: tree frogs lead the way

Courtesy: University of Glasgow

At least once a year, there must be a frog posting here (ETA: July 31, 2018 at 1640 hours: unusually, this is my second ‘frog’ posting in one week; my July 26, 2018 posting concerns a very desperate frog, Romeo). Prior to Romeo, this March 15, 2018 news item on phys.org tickled my fancy,

Scientists researching how tree frogs climb have discovered that a unique combination of adhesion and grip gives them perfect technique.

The new research, led by the University of Glasgow and published today [March 15, 2018] in the Journal of Experimental Biology, could have implications for areas of science such as robotics, as well as the production of climbing equipment and even tyre manufacture.

A March 15, 2018 University of Glasgow press release, which originated the news item, provides a little more detail,

Researchers found that, using their fluid-filled adhesive toe pads, tree frogs are able to grip to surfaces to climb. When surfaces aren’t smooth enough to allow adhesion, researchers found that the frogs relied on their long limbs to grip around objects.

University of Glasgow scientists Iain Hill and Jon Barnes gave the tree frogs a series of narrow and wide cylinders to climb. The research team found that on the narrow cylinders the frogs used their grip and adhesion pads, allowing them to climb the obstacle at speed. Wider cylinders were too large for the frogs to grip, so they could only climb more slowly using their suction adhesive pads.

When the cylinders were coated in sandpaper, preventing adhesion, the frogs could only climb the narrow ones slowly, using their grip. They were not able to climb the wider cylinders covered in sandpaper as they couldn’t use their grip or adhesion.

Dr Barnes said: “I have worked on tree frog research for many years and I find them fascinating. Work on tree frogs has been of interest to industry and other areas of science in the past, since their climbing abilities can offer us insights into the most efficient way to climb and stick to surfaces.

“Climbing robots, for instance, need ways to stick, they could be based either on gecko climbing or tree frog climbing.  This research demonstrates how a good climbing robot would need to combine gripping and adhesion to climb more efficiently.”

The study, “The biomechanics of tree frogs climbing curved surfaces: a gripping problem” is published in the Journal ofExperimental Biology. The work was funded by the Royal Society, London and by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper (I love the pun in the title),

The biomechanics of tree frogs climbing curved surfaces: a gripping problem by Iain D. C. Hill, Benzheng Dong, W. Jon. P. Barnes, Aihong Ji, Thomas Endlein. Journal of Experimental Biology 2018 : jeb.168179 doi: 10.1242/jeb.168179 Published 19 January 2018

This paper is behind a paywall.

Spider webs inspire liquid wire

Courtesy University of Oxford

Courtesy University of Oxford

Usually, when science talk runs to spider webs the focus is on strength but this research from the UK and France is all about resilience. From a May 16, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Why doesn’t a spider’s web sag in the wind or catapult flies back out like a trampoline? The answer, according to new research by an international team of scientists, lies in the physics behind a ‘hybrid’ material produced by spiders for their webs.

Pulling on a sticky thread in a garden spider’s orb web and letting it snap back reveals that the thread never sags but always stays taut—even when stretched to many times its original length. This is because any loose thread is immediately spooled inside the tiny droplets of watery glue that coat and surround the core gossamer fibres of the web’s capture spiral.

This phenomenon is described in the journal PNAS by scientists from the University of Oxford, UK and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France.

The researchers studied the details of this ‘liquid wire’ technique in spiders’ webs and used it to create composite fibres in the laboratory which, just like the spider’s capture silk, extend like a solid and compress like a liquid. These novel insights may lead to new bio-inspired technology.

A May 16, 2016 University of Oxford press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Professor Fritz Vollrath of the Oxford Silk Group in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University said: ‘The thousands of tiny droplets of glue that cover the capture spiral of the spider’s orb web do much more than make the silk sticky and catch the fly. Surprisingly, each drop packs enough punch in its watery skins to reel in loose bits of thread. And this winching behaviour is used to excellent effect to keep the threads tight at all times, as we can all observe and test in the webs in our gardens.’

The novel properties observed and analysed by the scientists rely on a subtle balance between fibre elasticity and droplet surface tension. Importantly, the team was also able to recreate this technique in the laboratory using oil droplets on a plastic filament. And this artificial system behaved just like the spider’s natural winch silk, with spools of filament reeling and unreeling inside the oil droplets as the thread extended and contracted.

Dr Hervé Elettro, the first author and a doctoral researcher at Institut Jean Le Rond D’Alembert, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, said: ‘Spider silk has been known to be an extraordinary material for around 40 years, but it continues to amaze us. While the web is simply a high-tech trap from the spider’s point of view, its properties have a huge amount to offer the worlds of materials, engineering and medicine.

‘Our bio-inspired hybrid threads could be manufactured from virtually any components. These new insights could lead to a wide range of applications, such as microfabrication of complex structures, reversible micro-motors, or self-tensioned stretchable systems.’

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

In-drop capillary spooling of spider capture thread inspires hybrid fibers with mixed solid–liquid mechanical properties by Hervé Elettro, Sébastien Neukirch, Fritz Vollrath, and Arnaud Antkowiak. PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1602451113

This paper appears to be open access.

Chinese scientists develop a novel 3D fabrication technique for bio-inspired hierarchical structures

An April 14, 2016 news item on phys.org describes a new 3D fabrication technique devised by Chinese scientists,

Nature is no doubt the world’s best biological engineer, whose simple, exquisite but powerful designs have inspired scientists and engineers to tackle the challenges of technologies for centuries. Scientists recently mimicked the surface structure of a moth’s eye, a unique structure with an antireflective property, to develop a highly light-absorbent graphene material. This is breakthrough [sic] in solar cell technology. Rice leaves and butterfly wings also have unique self-cleaning surface characteristics, which inspire scientists to develop novel materials resistant to biofouling. The bio-inspired periodic multi-scale structures, called hierarchical structures, have recently caught broad attention among scientists in various applications such as solar cells, Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), biomaterials and anti-bacterial surfaces.

An April 14, 2016 Optical Society of American news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Although a number of techniques for fabricating bio-inspired hierarchical structures already exist, most conventional methods either involve complicated processes or are highly time-consuming and low cost-efficiency for industrial applications. Now, a team of researchers from Changchun University of Science and Technology, China, have developed a novel method for the rapid and maskless fabrication of bio-inspired hierarchical structures, using a technique called laser interference lithography.

Specifically, the researchers use the interference pattern of three-and four-beam lasers to fabricate ordered multi-scale surface structures on silicon substrates, with the pattern of hierarchical structures controllable by adjusting the parameters of incident light. In accordance with the theoretical and computer analysis, the researchers have experimentally demonstrated the novel technique’s potential in large-area, low-cost and high-volume 3D fabrication of micro and nanostructures. …

“We presented a flexible and direct method for fabricating ordered multi-scale 3D structures using three- and four-beam interference lithography,” said Zuobin Wang, the primary author and a professor of International Research Centre for Nano Handling and Manufacturing of China at the Changchun University of Science and Technology, China. “Compared with other patterning technologies, our method is simple and efficient in terms of obtaining bio-inspired hierarchical structures.”

Wang mentioned that for certain complicated surface structures, conventional techniques such as electron beam lithography may take several hours or a day to fabricate the pattern, while the laser interference approach only takes several minutes to generate the structure, which makes the technique suitable for high-volume industrial production.

“Laser interference lithography is a maskless patterning technique that uses the interference patterns generated from two or several coherent laser beams to fabricate micro and nanometer periodic patterns over large areas,” Wang said. Different from conventional patterning techniques like electron beam lithography, the laser interference technique enables fabricating the entire substrate surface with one single exposure or one-step lithography.

For example, in Wang’s experiment, the one-dimension multi-scale structure, that is, one-dimension oriented arrangement with the sinusoidal grooves covered with periodic line-like structures was fabricated by exposing the silicon substrate to three or four interfered beams for one time. The resultant surface pattern, though arranged in one direction, has three-dimension spatial structure. To obtain more complicated structures such as two-dimension oriented multi-scale structures, the researchers simply rotated the substrate by 90 degrees in the plane and applied second laser exposure to the surface.

“Laser interference lithography is capable of fabricating homogeneous micro and nanometer structured patterns over areas more than one square meter, which is either impossible or highly time or cost consuming for conventional techniques,” Wang said. These features make laser interference lithography superior to other techniques in terms of efficiency and high-volume production.

According to Wang, their experimental process is simple: a high power laser beam was split into three or four equal beams, which then were directed by mirrors to generate interference patterns to fabricate the surface structures. The laser parameters such as incident angle and azimuthal angle of each beam were adjusted by beam splitters and mirror positions. Other optical devices such as quarter-wave plates and polarizers were used to select the polarization mode and control the energy of laser beams.

“The laser beam parameters are selected according to the desired surface structure and corresponding interference energy distribution calculated from theoretical simulation. In other words, the shapes or patterns of hierarchical structures in our method are controllable by adjusting the parameters of each incident beams,” Wang noted.

According to Wang, the proposed technique could be used to fabricate optical or medical devices such as solar cells, antireflective coatings, self-cleaning and antibacterial surfaces and long-life artificial hip joints.

The researchers’ next step is to develop functional surface structures with controllable wettability, adhesion and reflectivity properties for optical, medical and mechanical applications.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Bio-inspired hierarchical patterning of silicon by laser interference lithography by Yaowei Hu, Zuobin Wang, Zhankun Weng, Miao Yu, and Dapeng Wang. Applied Optics Vol. 55, Issue 12, pp. 3226-3232 (2016) doi: 10.1364/AO.55.003226

I believe this paper is behind a paywall.

The researchers have provided this image as an illustration of their concept,

 Caption: This is a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of a moth eye. Credit: Zuobin Wang/Changchun University of Science and Technology, China

Caption: This is a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of a moth eye. Credit: Zuobin Wang/Changchun University of Science and Technology, China

Revolutionary ‘smart’ windows from the UK

This is the first time I’ve seen self-cleaning and temperature control features mentioned together with regard to a ‘smart’ window, which makes this very exciting news. From a Jan. 20, 2016 UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) press release (also on EurekAlert),

A revolutionary new type of smart window could cut window-cleaning costs in tall buildings while reducing heating bills and boosting worker productivity. Developed by University College London (UCL) with support from EPSRC, prototype samples confirm that the glass can deliver three key benefits:

Self-cleaning: The window is ultra-resistant to water, so rain hitting the outside forms spherical droplets that roll easily over the surface – picking up dirt, dust and other contaminants and carrying them away. This is due to the pencil-like, conical design of nanostructures engraved onto the glass, trapping air and ensuring only a tiny amount of water comes into contact with the surface. This is different from normal glass, where raindrops cling to the surface, slide down more slowly and leave marks behind.
Energy-saving: The glass is coated with a very thin (5-10nm) film of vanadium dioxide which during cold periods stops thermal radiation escaping and so prevents heat loss; during hot periods it prevents infrared radiation from the sun entering the building. Vanadium dioxide is a cheap and abundant material, combining with the thinness of the coating to offer real cost and sustainability advantages over silver/gold-based and other coatings used by current energy-saving windows.
Anti-glare: The design of the nanostructures also gives the windows the same anti-reflective properties found in the eyes of moths and other creatures that have evolved to hide from predators. It cuts the amount of light reflected internally in a room to less than 5 per cent – compared with the 20-30 per cent achieved by other prototype vanadium dioxide coated, energy-saving windows – with this reduction in ‘glare’ providing a big boost to occupant comfort.

This is the first time that a nanostructure has been combined with a thermochromic coating. The bio-inspired nanostructure amplifies the thermochromics properties of the coating and the net result is a self-cleaning, highly performing smart window, said Dr Ioannis Papakonstantinou of UCL.

The UCL team calculate that the windows could result in a reduction in heating bills of up to 40 per cent, with the precise amount in any particular case depending on the exact latitude of the building where they are incorporated. Windows made of the ground-breaking glass could be especially well-suited to use in high-rise office buildings.

Dr Ioannis Papakonstantinou of UCL, project leader, explains: It’s currently estimated that, because of the obvious difficulties involved, the cost of cleaning a skyscraper’s windows in its first 5 years is the same as the original cost of installing them. Our glass could drastically cut this expenditure, quite apart from the appeal of lower energy bills and improved occupant productivity thanks to less glare. As the trend in architecture continues towards the inclusion of more glass, it’s vital that windows are as low-maintenance as possible.

So, when can I buy these windows? (from the press release; Note: Links have been removed)

Discussions are now under way with UK glass manufacturers with a view to driving this new window concept towards commercialisation. The key is to develop ways of scaling up the nano-manufacturing methods that the UCL team have specially developed to produce the glass, as well as scaling up the vanadium dioxide coating process. Smart windows could begin to reach the market within around 3-5 years [emphasis mine], depending on the team’s success in securing industrial interest.

Dr Papakonstantinou says: We also hope to develop a ‘smart’ film that incorporates our nanostructures and can easily be added to conventional domestic, office, factory and other windows on a DIY [do-it-yourself] basis to deliver the triple benefit of lower energy use, less light reflection and self-cleaning, without significantly affecting aesthetics.

Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of EPSRC said: This project is an example of how investing in excellent research drives innovation to produce tangible benefits. In this case the new technique could deliver both energy savings and cost reductions.

A 5-year European Research Council (ERC) starting grant (IntelGlazing) has been awarded to fabricate smart windows on a large scale and test them under realistic, outdoor environmental conditions.

The UCL team that developed the prototype smart window includes Mr Alaric Taylor, a PhD student in Dr Papakonstantinou’s group, and Professor Ivan Parkin from UCL’s Department of Chemistry.

I wish them good luck.

One last note, these new windows are the outcome of a 2.5 year EPSRC funded project: Biologically Inspired Nanostructures for Smart Windows with Antireflection and Self-Cleaning Properties, which ended in Sept.  2015.

Nanotechnology-enabled flame retardant coating

This is a pretty remarkable demonstration made more so when you find out the flame retardant is naturally derived and nontoxic. From an Oct. 5, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Inspired by a naturally occurring material found in marine mussels, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have created a new flame retardant to replace commercial additives that are often toxic and can accumulate over time in the environment and living animals, including humans.

An Oct. 5, 2015 University of Texas news release, which originated the news item, describes the situation with regard to standard flame retardants and what makes this new flame retardant technology so compelling,

Flame retardants are added to foams found in mattresses, sofas, car upholstery and many other consumer products. Once incorporated into foam, these chemicals can migrate out of the products over time, releasing toxic substances into the air and environment. Throughout the United States, there is pressure on state legislatures to ban flame retardants, especially those containing brominated compounds (BRFs), a mix of human-made chemicals thought to pose a risk to public health.

A team led by Cockrell School of Engineering associate professor Christopher Ellison found that a synthetic coating of polydopamine — derived from the natural compound dopamine — can be used as a highly effective, water-applied flame retardant for polyurethane foam. Dopamine is a chemical compound found in humans and animals that helps in the transmission of signals in the brain and other vital areas. The researchers believe their dopamine-based nanocoating could be used in lieu of conventional flame retardants.

“Since polydopamine is natural and already present in animals, this question of toxicity immediately goes away,” Ellison said. “We believe polydopamine could cheaply and easily replace the flame retardants found in many of the products that we use every day, making these products safer for both children and adults.”

Using far less polydopamine by weight than typical of conventional flame retardant additives, the UT Austin team found that the polydopamine coating on foams leads to a 67 percent reduction in peak heat release rate, a measure of fire intensity and imminent danger to building occupants or firefighters. The polydopamine flame retardant’s ability to reduce the fire’s intensity is about 20 percent better than existing flame retardants commonly used today.

Researchers have studied the use of synthetic polydopamaine for a number of health-related applications, including cancer drug delivery and implantable biomedical devices. However, the UT Austin team is thought to be one of the first to pursue the use of polydopamine as a flame retardant. To the research team’s surprise, they did not have to change the structure of the polydopamine from its natural form to use it as a flame retardant. The polydopamine was coated onto the interior and exterior surfaces of the polyurethane foam by simply dipping it into a water solution of dopamine for several days.

Ellison said he and his team were drawn to polydopamine because of its ability to adhere to surfaces as demonstrated by marine mussels who use the compound to stick to virtually any surface, including Teflon, the material used in nonstick cookware. Polydopamine also contains a dihydroxy-ring structure linked with an amine group that can be used to scavenge or remove free radicals. Free radicals are produced during the fire cycle as a polymer degrades, and their removal is critical to stopping the fire from continuing to spread. Polydopamine also produces a protective coating called char, which blocks fire’s access to its fuel source — the polymer. The synergistic combination of both these processes makes polydopamine an attractive and powerful flame retardant.

Ellison and his team are now testing to see whether they can shorten the nanocoating treatment process or develop a more convenient application process.

“We believe this alternative to flame retardants can prove very useful to removing potential hazards from products that children and adults use every day,” Ellison said. “We weren’t expecting to find a flame retardant in nature, but it was a serendipitous discovery.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Bioinspired Catecholic Flame Retardant Nanocoating for Flexible Polyurethane Foams by Joon Hee Cho, Vivek Vasagar, Kadhiravan Shanmuganathan, Amanda R. Jones, Sergei Nazarenko, and Christopher J. Ellison. Chem. Mater., 2015, 27 (19), pp 6784–6790 DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.5b03013
Publication Date (Web): September 9, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall. It should be noted that researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi and the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR)-National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, India were also involved in this work.

SLIPS (Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces) lead the way to stain-free, self-cleaning clothes

Thanks to the researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, I have discovered a new word, omniphobicity. Before getting to this new word, here’s a little more information about the project which spawned the word. According to a Jan. 14, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The researchers behind SLIPS (Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces) have demonstrated a spate of sleek applications of the super-slick coating since unveiling it in a 2011 issue of Nature – and they just expanded its repertoire even more.

The Jan. ??, 2014 Harvard University Wyss Institute news release, which originated the news item, provides additional information about the SLIPS (Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces) technology explaining the engineers have taken their inspiration from the pitcher plant rather the lotus, as is more common,

The team from Harvard’s Wyss Institute and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has demonstrated the uncanny ability of SLIPS – inspired by the pitcher plant – to repel nearly any material it contacts: water, ice, oil, saltwater, wax, blood, and more. They have demonstrated its versatility under extreme conditions of pH and temperature, and have successfully used SLIPS to coat everything from refrigeration coils to lenses, windows, and ceramics. What’s more, in 2012 they won an R&D 100 Award for the technology from R&D Magazine. This annual award honors the year’s 100 most significant products, the so-called game-changers of the technology scene.

Here’s what an image illustrating the pitcher plant and SLIPS,

Inspired by the Nepenthes pitcher plant... [Image credit: New Scientist; Bohn & Federie, PNAS 101, 14138-14143, 2004] Courtesy Wyss Institute

Inspired by the Nepenthes pitcher plant… [Image credit: New Scientist; Bohn & Federie, PNAS 101, 14138-14143, 2004] Courtesy Wyss Institute

The team’s latest work features cotton and polyster fabrics (from the news release),

And now, as reported January 10 [2014] in a special issue celebrating the 25th year of the journal Nanotechnology, the team has modified everyday cotton and polyester fabrics to exhibit traditional antifouling SLIPS behavior. The advance could meet the need for a robust, stain-resistant textile for a host of consumer and industrial applications.

“We took one page out of Nature’s book, and are finding that it has the potential to help us develop solutions to a variety of age-old challenges: ice we don’t want on refrigeration coils, bacteria that we don’t want on medical devices, and now stains we don’t want on clothes,” said Joanna Aizenberg, Ph.D., who leads the development of the technology. Aizenberg is a Core Faculty member of the Wyss Institute and the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at SEAS

Most currently available state-of-the-art, stain-resistant fabrics draw their inspiration and design from the lotus leaf. Tiny nanotextures on the surface of lotus leaves resist water, causing droplets of water to bead up on a cushion of air at the edge of the surface. Lotus-inspired textiles therefore use air-filled nanostructures to repel water. These are capable of repelling most aqueous liquids and dirt particles, but they suffer from a series of shortcomings, explained Cicely Shillingford, a Wyss Research Assistant and lead author of the Nanotechnology publication. They require a stable solid-air layer for the beading process to occur and thus fail easily under pressure – as in a heavy rainstorm – and do not withstand physical damage, such as twisting and abrasion, very well. They also stain more easily from organic or complex liquids, such as oil.

On the other hand, SLIPS is inspired by the carnivorous pitcher plant, which locks in a water layer to create a slick coating that causes insects that land on it to literally hydroplane and fall into the plant. The SLIPS coating anchors a slippery lubricated film infused to a nanoporous solid surface, creating a material that performs exceedingly well under pressure or physical damage, and can resist all kinds of liquids, including oil.
To create a fabric with SLIPS-type functionality, the team bought off-the-shelf cotton and polyester fabrics from stores near their lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and developed two ways to chemically treat them. One involved coating them with tiny particles of silica (SiM), and the other required a treatment with sol-gel based alumina (SgB). …

What happened after the team put the SLIPS-fabrics through a ringer of tests performed according to industrial standards – from twisting to rubbing and staining attempts?

“The SLIPS-fabric showed an unprecedented ability to repel a wide range of fluids and resist staining, and it handles physical stresses and strains just fine,” said Aizenberg.

While not every SLIPS-fabric was as breathable (yet) as the researchers hoped, it outperformed currently available stain-resistant fabrics on just about every other measure. As such, the most likely immediate applications could be fabrics needed in potentially extreme environments where breathability is not paramount but exposure to challenging contaminating liquids and biological hazards is involved, such as tactical suits for the military, lab coats, medical clothing, specialty garments for construction and manufacturing, and perhaps even tents and sports stadiums.

The scientists have also provided an image of a lab coat that was partially (sleeves) converted to SLIPS and than stained with a variety of foodstuffs,

Former Wyss Postdoctoral Fellow Tak-Sing Wong, Ph.D., who is now an assistant professor at The Pennsylvania State University, wears a labcoat in which the sleeves were converted to SLIPS, after sprayed with wine, tomato juice, eggs, and more. Courtesy Wyss Institute

Former Wyss Postdoctoral Fellow Tak-Sing Wong, Ph.D., who is now an assistant professor at The Pennsylvania State University, wears a labcoat in which the sleeves were converted to SLIPS, after sprayed with wine, tomato juice, eggs, and more. Courtesy Wyss Institute

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Fabrics coated with lubricated nanostructures display robust omniphobicity by Cicely Shillingford, Noah MacCallum, Tak-Sing Wong, Philseok Kim and Joanna Aizenberg. Nanotechnology 25 01 4019 doi:10.1088/0957-4484/25/1/014019

This paper is behind a paywall. As for an explanation of the word omniphobicity this abstract is helpful,

The development of a stain-resistant and pressure-stable textile is desirable for consumer and industrial applications alike, yet it remains a challenge that current technologies have been unable to fully address. Traditional superhydrophobic surfaces, inspired by the lotus plant, are characterized by two main components: hydrophobic chemical functionalization and surface roughness. While this approach produces water-resistant surfaces, these materials have critical weaknesses that hinder their practical utility, in particular as robust stain-free fabrics. For example, traditional superhydrophobic surfaces fail (i.e., become stained) when exposed to low-surface-tension liquids, under pressure when impacted by a high-velocity stream of water (e.g., rain), and when exposed to physical forces such as abrasion and twisting. We have recently introduced slippery lubricant-infused porous surfaces (SLIPS), a self-healing, pressure-tolerant and omniphobic surface, to address these issues. [emphasis mine] Herein we present the rational design and optimization of nanostructured lubricant-infused fabrics and demonstrate markedly improved performance over traditional superhydrophobic textile treatments: SLIPS-functionalized cotton and polyester fabrics exhibit decreased contact angle hysteresis and sliding angles, omni-repellent properties against various fluids including polar and nonpolar liquids, pressure tolerance and mechanical robustness, all of which are not readily achievable with the state-of-the-art superhydrophobic coatings.

If I understand it rightly the researchers are using the word omniphobic (omni meaning ‘all’ or ‘everything’) to imply that this surface repels liquids in many more situations, e.g. high-velocity stream of water (rain) than the superhydrophobic materials.