An international team of European scientists has developed a material that could soon do away with cleaning dishes forever. According to their publication in the American Chemical Society-sponsored journal Langmuir, the scientists have created a metal with “superhydrophobic” and antimicrobial properties.
The unique metal is etched with a microscopic jagged texture which is too rough for water or bacteria to cling to. The grooves and ridges on the surface contain microscopic air pockets which help minimize the surface area with which microbes come into contact.
This “self-cleaning” metal was created through careful study of the leaves of the lotus plant, which have an incredible ability to repel water. The term “self-cleaning” is a bit of a misnomer - most self-cleaning materials actually work by not getting dirty in the first place, as in the case of this metal.
The research is part of a larger project called TresClean, which seeks to improve sanitary conditions of public spaces through research and cutting-edge materials science.
Dr. Luca Romoli of the University of Parma in Italy, coordinator of the TresClean project, says the unique surface composition of the metal mimics that of the lotus leaf and enables it to stay clean on its own:
In the same way that lotus leaves keep themselves clean, without the need for cleaning products or chemicals, their jagged, rough surfaces enable water to stay as spherical droplets by preventing spreading. Bacteria do not get a chance to stick because the contact with the metal surface and the liquid is reduced by over 80%. We are looking at an anti-bacterial metal.
Lotus leaves have a remarkable ability to repel water.
This new “self-cleaning” metal is aimed at food production industries, allowing food manufacturers to save time and money by reducing the need for cleaning. From there, the researchers hope to expand into the home appliance market. Improving cleaning methods will also be a huge boon for the world’s delicate water supply, as less clean water will be needed for cleaning.