New Coating makes Superglass

New resilient, ultraslippery glass could lead to self-cleaning, scratch-resistant windows, lenses, and solar panels. A new transparent, bioinspired coating makes ordinary glass tough, self-cleaning and incredibly slippery, was made by a team from Harvard University.

The new coating could be used to create durable, scratch-resistant lenses for eyeglasses, self-cleaning windows, improved solar panels and new medical diagnostic devices.

The new coating builds on an award-winning technology that Aizenberg and her team pioneered called Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces (SLIPS)—the slipperiest synthetic surface known. The new coating is equally slippery, but much more durable and fully transparent. Together these advances solve longstanding challenges in creating commercially useful materials that repel almost everything.

SLIPS was inspired by the slick strategy of the carnivorous pitcher plant, which lures insects onto the ultraslippery surface of its leaves, where they slide to their doom. Unlike earlier water-repelling materials, SLIPS repels oil and sticky liquids like honey, and it resists ice formation and bacterial biofilms as well.

While SLIPS was an important advance, it was also “a proof of principle”—the first step toward a commercially valuable technology, said lead author Nicolas Vogel, a postdoctoral fellow in applied physics at SEAS.

“SLIPS repels both oily and aqueous liquids but it’s expensive to make and not transparent,” Vogel said.

Researchers create the ultraslippery coating by creating a glass honeycomb-like structure with craters (left), coating it with a Teflon-like chemical (purple) that binds to the honeycomb cells to form a stable liquid film. That film repels droplets of both water and oily liquids (right). Because it’s a liquid, it flows, which helps the coating repair itself when damaged. (Image courtesy of Nicolas Vogel.)

The new coating builds on an award-winning technology that Aizenberg and her team pioneered called Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces (SLIPS)—the slipperiest synthetic surface known. The new coating is equally slippery, but much more durable and fully transparent. Together these advances solve longstanding challenges in creating commercially useful materials that repel almost everything.

SLIPS was inspired by the slick strategy of the carnivorous pitcher plant, which lures insects onto the ultraslippery surface of its leaves, where they slide to their doom. Unlike earlier water-repelling materials, SLIPS repels oil and sticky liquids like honey, and it resists ice formation and bacterial biofilms as well.

While SLIPS was an important advance, it was also “a proof of principle”—the first step toward a commercially valuable technology, said lead author Nicolas Vogel, a postdoctoral fellow in applied physics at SEAS.

“SLIPS repels both oily and aqueous liquids but it’s expensive to make and not transparent,” Vogel said.

“We set ourselves a challenging goal: to design a versatile coating that’s as good as SLIPS but much easier to apply, transparent, and much tougher—and that is what we managed,” Aizenberg said.

The team is now honing its method to better coat curved pieces of glass as well as clear plastics such as Plexiglas, and to adapt the method for the rigors of manufacturing.

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