University of Twente (Holland) researchers love their metaphors: ‘bed of nails’ and ‘soccer balls’

In the last week there have been a couple of news releases from Dutch researchers at the University of Twente’s MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology which feature some metaphors. The first was a Sept. 20, 2012 news item on Nanowerk (Note: I have removed a link),

Nanotechnology researchers develop ‘bed of nails’ material for clean surfaces

Scientists at the University of Twente’s MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology have developed a new material that is not only extremely water-repellent but also extremely oil-repellent. It contains minuscule pillars which retain droplets. What makes the material unique is that the droplets stay on top even when they evaporate (slowly getting smaller). This opens the way to such things as smartphone screens that really cannot get dirty. The study appears today in the scientific journal Soft Matter (“Absence of an evaporation-driven wetting transition on omniphobic surfaces”).

The University of Twente Sept. 12, 2012 news release, which originated the news item explores the metaphor and the technology,

Water-repellent surfaces can be used as a coating for windows, obviating the need to clean them ever again. These surfaces have an orderly arrangement of tiny pillars less than one-hundredth of a millimetre high (similar to a bed of nails but on an extremely small scale). Water droplets stay on the tips of the pillars, retaining the shape of perfectly round tiny pearls. As a result they can roll off the surface like marbles, taking all the dirt with them.

Nanotechnologists at the University of Twente have now managed to create a silicon surface that retains not only water droplets but also oil droplets like tiny pearls …. What makes the material unique is that the droplets remain in place even when they evaporate (get smaller).

With existing materials, evaporating droplets drop down between the pillars onto the surface after a while, changing in shape to hemispheres which can no longer simply roll off the surface. The surface can therefore still get dirty. By modifying the edges and the roughness of the minuscule pillars the UT scientists have managed to create a surface on which the droplets do not drop down even when they evaporate but stay neatly on top.

The Sept. 27, 2012 news item on Nanowerk features another metaphor, one which is well known amongst followers of the nanotechnology scene,

Nanotechnologists create miniscule soccer balls

Nanotechnologists at the University of Twente’s MESA+ research institute have developed a method whereby minuscule polystyrene spheres, automatically and under controlled conditions, form an almost perfect ball that looks suspiciously like a football, but about a thousand times smaller. The spheres organize themselves in such a way that they approach the densest arrangement possible, known as ‘closest packing of spheres’. The method provides nanotechnologists with a new way of creating minuscule 3D structures.

Soccer balls usually reference buckminster fullerenes (bucky balls). The news item explains this new use further,

The method developed by the University of Twente scientists involves placing a drop of water containing thousands of polystyrene spheres one micrometre in size (a thousand times smaller than a millimetre) on a superhydrophobic surface. As the drop is allowed to evaporate very slowly under controlled conditions the distances between the spheres become smaller and smaller and surprisingly they form a highly organized 3D structure. The spheres were found to organize themselves of their own accord in such a way that the ball they form approaches the most compact arrangement possible (‘closest packing of spheres’), with 74% of the space filled by the spheres. Like a football, the structures that form are almost perfectly spherical, consisting of a large number of planes. The researchers have therefore dubbed their material ‘microscopic soccer balls’. The minuscule footballs are a hundred to a thousand micrometres in size, containing from ten thousand to as much as a billion of the tiny polystyrene spheres.

There’s more on the University of Twente’s MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology website but you will need to have Dutch language skills.

It’s always good to see metaphors and I like when scientists (or whoever’s writing the news releases) get create that way.

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