Non-toxic, Super-slippery Surface Material Offers a Wealth of Possible Marine Applications
Biofouling is a real problem for marine structures (including ships) that are immersed in ocean waters. Dr. Truis Smith-Palmer, a chemist at Saint Francis Xavier University (StFX) is a biofouling expert and has been working with a research team from Sydney, Australia to come up with a non-toxic, super-slippery surface material with a wealth of possible marine applications.
Taking their inspiration from nature, the pitcher plant, a carnivorous plant that traps and devours insects, served as the model. The lip of the plant’s deep pitcher has tiny structures on its surface that are 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. When a thin layer of water is present on the lip, the insects have nothing to hold on to and they slip into the pitcher and are digested inside.
To recreate this kind of slippery, wrinkly surface the research team uses polystyrene, Teflon and silicone oil. The material can be shaped and can also be transparent, and they could be used for example on underwater cameras or other applications where the surface needs light to pass through.
The team, led by University of Sydney’s Chiara Neto, field tested the invention and saw a significant reduction in biofouling on their test surfaces. Currently, due to the cost of the material and the smaller size, it can be produced in, the nanowrinkle surfaces technology are a better fit for industries like aquaculture and underwater sensors. However, solving fouling on ships would reduce drag and fuel costs and be highly desirable.
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Photo: ERIC WYNNE / The Chronicle Herald Staff