Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Super-slick material makes steel better, stronger, cleaner


Harvard researchers design most durable anti-fouling material to date

Steel is ubiquitous in our daily lives. We cook in stainless steel skillets, ride steel subway cars over steel rails to our offices in steel-framed building. Steel screws hold together broken bones, steel braces straighten crooked teeth, steel scalpels remove tumors. Most of the goods we consume are delivered by ships and trucks mostly built of steel.

Surface coating scratched with stainless tweezers, screw driver and diamond pen. The coating, made from rough nanoporous tungsten oxide, is capable of repelling any kind of liquid even after sustaining intense structural abuse.

Credit: Aizenberg Lab/Harvard SEAS

While various grades of steel have been developed over the past 50 years, steel surfaces have remained largely unchanged -- and unimproved. The steel of today is as prone as ever to the corrosive effects of water and salt and abrasive materials such as sand. Steel surgical tools can still carry microorganisms that cause deadly infections.

Now, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have demonstrated a way to make steel stronger, safer and more durable. Their new surface coating, made from rough nanoporous tungsten oxide, is the most durable anti-fouling and anti-corrosive material to date, capable of repelling any kind of liquid even after sustaining intense structural abuse.

The new material joins the portfolio of other non-stick, anti-fouling materials developed in the lab of Joanna Aizenberg, the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science and core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Aizenberg's team developed Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces in 2011 and since then has demonstrated a broad range of applications for the super-slick coating, known as SLIPS. The new SLIPS-enhanced steel is described in Nature Communications.

"Our slippery steel is orders of magnitude more durable than any anti-fouling material that has been developed before," said Aizenberg. "So far, these two concepts - mechanical durability and anti-fouling - were at odds with each other. We need surfaces to be textured and porous to impart fouling resistance but rough nanostructured coatings are intrinsically weaker than their bulk analogs. This research shows that careful surface engineering allows the design of a material capable of performing multiple, even conflicting, functions, without performance degradation."

The material could have far-ranging applications and avenues for commercialization, including non-fouling medical tools and devices, such as implants and scalpels, nozzles for 3D printing and, potentially, larger-scale applications for buildings and marine vessels.

The biggest challenge in the development of this surface was to figure out how to structure steel to ensure its anti-fouling capability without mechanical degradation. The team solved this by using an electrochemical technique to grow an ultrathin film of hundreds of thousands of small and rough tungsten-oxide islands directly onto a steel surface.

"If one part of an island is destroyed, the damage doesn't propagate to other parts of the surface because of the lack of interconnectivity between neighboring islands," said Alexander B. Tesler, former postdoctoral fellow at SEAS, current research fellow at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and the paper's first author. "This island-like morphology combined with the inherent durability and roughness of the tungsten oxide allows the surface to keep its repellent properties in highly abrasive applications, which was impossible until now."

Electrochemical deposition is already a widely used technique in steel manufacturing, said Aizenberg.

"I don't want to create another line that would cost millions and millions of dollars and that no one would adopt," Aizenberg said. The goal, she said, is to be scalable, but not disruptive to current industry practices.

The team tested the material by scratching it with stainless steel tweezers, screwdrivers, diamond-tipped scribers, and pummeling it with hundreds of thousands of hard, heavy beads. Then, the team tested its anti-wetting properties with a wide variety of liquids, including water, oil, highly corrosive media, biological fluids containing bacteria and blood. Not only did the material repel all the liquid and show anti-biofouling behavior but the tungsten oxide actually made the steel stronger than steel without the coating.

Medical steel devices are one of the material's most promising applications, said Philseok Kim, co-author of the paper and co-founder and vice president of technology at SEAS spin-off SLIPS Technologies Inc. "Because we show that this material successfully repels bacteria and blood, small medical implants, tools and surgical instruments like scalpels and needles that require both significant mechanical strength and anti-fouling property are high value-added products we are exploring for application and commercialization," said Kim.

Another avenue for application is functional 3D printing and microarray devices, especially in printing highly viscous and sticky biological and polymeric materials where friction and contamination are major obstacles.

U.S. Navy spends tens of millions of dollars each year dealing with the ramifications of biofouling on hulls. Organisms such as barnacles and algae create drag and increased energy expenditure, not to mention the costs of cleaning and reapplying current anti-fouling paints, most of which are harmful to the environment. If scaled-up, this material could provide a cleaner, more cost-efficient alternative.

"This research is an example of hard core, classic material science," said Aizenberg. "We took a material that changed the world and asked, how can we make it better?"

Leah Burrows | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Harvard SEAS SLIPS coating material stainless steel surfaces tungsten oxide

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years
27.10.2016 | University of California - Los Angeles

nachricht 3-D-printed structures shrink when heated
26.10.2016 | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>