Sunday 20 April, 2014

‘Ice-free’ surfaces to repel freezing water

Published On: Sat, Nov 13th, 2010 | Science | By BioNews

Scientists have designed and demonstrated ice-free nanostructured materials that literally repel water droplets before they even have the chance to freeze.

The finding, by engineers from Harvard University, could lead to a new way to keep airplane wings, buildings, powerlines, and even entire highways free of ice during the worst winter weather.

Moreover, integrating anti-ice technology right into a material is more efficient and sustainable than conventional solutions like chemical sprays,
salt, and heating.

A team led by Joanna Aizenberg, Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a Core Member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, focused on preventing rather than fighting ice buildup.

“We wanted to take a completely different tact and design materials that inherently prevent ice formation by repelling the water droplets,” says Aizenberg.

“From past studies, we also realized that the formation of ice is not a static event. The crucial approach was to investigate the entire dynamic process of how droplets impact and freeze on a supercooled surface.”

For initial inspiration, the researchers turned to some elegant solutions seen in nature. For example, mosquitos can defog their eyes, and water striders can keep their legs dry thanks to an array of tiny bristles that repel droplets by reducing the surface area each one encounters.

“Freezing starts with droplets colliding with a surface,” explains Aizenberg. “But very little is known about what happens when droplets hit surfaces at low temperatures.”

To gain a detailed understanding of the process, the researchers watched high-speed videos of supercooled droplets hitting surfaces that were modeled after those found in nature.

They saw that when a cold droplet hits the nanostructured surface, it first spreads out, but then the process runs in reverse: the droplet retracts to a spherical shape and bounces back off the surface before ever having a chance to freeze.

By contrast, on a smooth surface without the structured properties, a droplet remains spread out and eventually freezes.

“We fabricated surfaces with various geometries and feature sizes—bristles, blades, and interconnected patterns such as honeycombs and bricks—to test and understand parameters critical for optimization,” says Lidiya Mishchenko, a graduate student in Aizenberg”s lab and first author of the paper.

The use of such precisely engineered materials enabled the researchers to model the dynamic behavior of impacting droplets at an amazing level of detail, leading them to create a better design for ice-preventing materials.

The study has been reported online in ACS Nano on November 9th.

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