Researchers have created these super-hydrophobic surfaces by etching patterns — one that has micro posts or the other that has ribs and cavities (the size of a human hair) onto the surface. They then add a water-resistant film — such as Teflon — to the surface, and that combination creates a super-waterproof surface. As they alter the width and angles of the ribs and cavities, they are able to find different results.
“These particular surfaces can do this because of the structure of the surface,” said Professor Crockett. “You get air pockets in between where the fluid is actually touching, reducing the drag, so there is not as much friction because there is not as much contact between a liquid and a solid.”
This also has the possibility of helping in the ship industry, researchers say. When looking at a ship in the ocean, there is friction between the water and the surface of the ship. If the ship were to have a super-waterproof surface, there would be much less drag or resistance to motion, making travel faster and more economical.
“When you are talking about ships, you are talking about such an enormous amount of energy that is consumed each year all around the world,” said Professor Maynes. “So the reduction of only one or two percent of the overall drag represents literally billions of dollars. Even though the amount of reduction may not be big, the cumulative reductions are.”
Although the list of practical applications is interesting and fun to think about, the main reason for their research goes beyond waterproofing, said Professor Crockett. With an array of experiments always in progress, BYU professors and students are working hard on their research to find the type of surface that is best for a specific application.
“We really want to understand the physics,” she said. “We foresee many applications, and part of the vision that we have is to understand how to create these surfaces and understand them enough so that other people understand them as well.”
From there, Professor Crockett is excited to see what benefits and possibilities — of which researchers haven’t yet considered — come up because of their research.
The research — focusing on surfaces with microscopic patterns coupled with the waterproof coating — was recently published in the academic journal Physics of Fluids.