The Paradox of Loving and Hating Water
Water is perhaps the most important chemical compound to sustained life on planet Earth. Without it, it is highly unlikely that anything could live, and this is one of the reasons why finding water or ice on other planets and moons is news-worthy. However, there are some things that are best kept away from water, such as electronics. Things like this have the distinct possibility of malfunctioning or being ruined after getting wet. To protect items like electronics, many people and developers are now turning to hydrophobic nanocoating or waterproof cases.
Hydrophobic vs. Hydrophilic
If you paid attention in science class, you probably recognize some or all of the roots in Hydrophilic and hydrophobic. The word hydro is the Greek root for water and phobos is the Greek word for fear, so something that is hydrophobic is something that “fears water.” Philos is Greek for loving, so something that is hydrophilic “loves water.” Of course, inanimate objects do not have emotions and cannot really love or fear, but they can repel or absorb. A good example of something that is hydrophobic is oil. When mixed with water, oil separates itself without additional aid. On the other side is perhaps the most famous hydrophilic device: the common household sponge. Sponges can absorb many times their own weight in water.
When it comes to protecting gadgets and materials from water, the hydrophobic possibilities are limitless. According to DryWired, applying a super-hydrophobic coating to cars, cloth, electronics, and anything else that needs to be washed or is damaged by water could save potentially millions in repair and washing costs. For example:
- A water-repelling surface to a car means spending virtually no time washing or maintaining the car, saving hundred of gallons of water per vehicle.
- Non-stick food-safe coatings in bottles allow people to use every single drop of food or sauce, preventing waste.
- Hydrophobic cloth does not get soiled, allowing it to go without washing for days at a time, maybe forever.
- Waterproof electronics are much safer in and around humid conditions and can even be fully immersed in water without being damaged.
Hydrophilic Surfaces in the Everyday World
Although waterproof surfaces are getting lots of press these days, there is also a great deal of study in producing super-hydrophilic coatings. These work in the opposite way as water repellant surfaces, where water-based liquids immediately ball-up and slide off the surface in questions. Hydrophilic coatings allow water to spread evenly across the surface. Both of these involve what is known as the contact angle. The steeper the contact angle, the more hydrophobic a surface is. Shallow contact angles make water droplets transform into a slight smear across the surface, which is great for things like anti-fogging coatings on the interior of car windows.
Being able to make a surface that is normally water-absorbent into one that is highly hydrophobic is potentially world changing. The water savings alones prove to be appealing to people who are conscious of their water usage, and for people who rely on water-sensitive electronics, the peace of mind of special water-repellant coatings is priceless. All of this nano-technology research is sure to be a part of the most important innovations of the future, as well as involved in creating a more sustainable lifestyle and culture around the world.