Your Teflon frying pan might make it slightly easier to make an omelet, but the chemical coating can also have the unpleasant side effect of emitting toxic fumes if it gets too hot. It’s also not actually all that slippery: A drop of water in a nonstick pan won’t slide out until the pan is tilted steeply to the side.
A new laser-treated metal, on the other hand, is so water-repellent that a single drip bounces off like a tiny rubber ball.
Researchers at the University of Rochester used a laser to etch nano-scale patterns into metal, and ended up with a surface that physically forces water away.
“By using this metal, it’s really intrinsic–we’re not using any additional chemical coating,” explains Chunlei Guo, a professor in the university’s Institute of Optics. “So it’s much better for health and the environment.”
It’s also useful for quite a bit more than cookware. On an airplane, the metal could help keep wings free from ice. Cars could resist corrosion and rust. In a hospital, surfaces made out of the material could automatically resist bacteria.
In the developing world, the material could be used to make self-cleaning toilets that don’t need to be flushed. It could also be used to collect rainwater over large areas, replacing the inefficient funnels that are currently used.
It could even be used to make cargo ships glide through the water, saving fuel and drastically cutting pollution–right now, a typical cargo ship pollutes as much as 50 million cars. “Imagine the countless ships navigating the ocean,” Guo says. “If they make the hull of the ships superhydrophobic to repel water, there will be very little water friction, and then we can make them much more efficient.”
“What makes me most excited is how many different types of applications we can potentially apply this technology to,” he adds.