A smooth, durable, clear coating that swiftly sheds just about every known liquid including water, oils, alcohols and peanut butter could make phone screens, camera lenses and other everyday items grime-proof and safer for children who might bring these items to their mouth, says a study by an Indian-origin researcher.
Called "omniphobic" in materials science parlance, the new coating can be easily applied to virtually any surface, said the study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.
"We're excited about what this could do to make homes and daycares cleaner places, and we're looking at a variety of possible applications in industry as well," said Anish Tuteja, Associate Professor at University of Michigan in the US.
By mapping out the fundamental properties of a vast library of substances, the researchers were able to mathematically predict how any two would behave when they are combined.
This enabled them to concoct a nearly endless variety of combinations with very specifically tailored properties.
Ultimately, the team discovered that a mix of fluorinated polyurethane and a specialised fluid-repellent molecule called F-POSS fitted the bill.
Tuteja believes that the coating will be inexpensive by the time it sees the mass market -- fluorinated polyurethane is an inexpensive, common ingredient.
And while F-POSS is rare and expensive today, manufacturers are in the process of scaling it up to mass production, which should dramatically lower its cost.
The research team is also doing further studies to ensure that the coating is non-toxic for use in places like daycare centres.
Tuteja estimates that the coating could go to market within the next two years, and he believes childproof coatings are just the beginning.