Amazing New Self-Cleaning Materials

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Amazing New Self-Cleaning Materials

To be useful, most of the things in our lives need their surfaces to remain relatively clean, and many need regular repair.  Typically, this involves the actions of a human agent.  However, a recent goal of scientists has been to make things self-cleaning and self-repairing

For something to be self-cleaning, there still needs to be some agent that organizes, polishes, or sanitizes it.  Today, scientists are developing non-human agents that can either clean themselves or keep themselves clean under normal conditions.  Meanwhile, self-repairing surfaces need an agent that knits the damaged surface back together.

These breakthroughs are proving to be great time- and money-savers, but perhaps more significantly, many of them have positive health implications, as well.  Let's review several of the new technologies, starting with those that focus on saving time and money.

For example, scientists at China's Donghua University have developed a new cotton fabric that uses ordinary sunlight to rid itself of stains and bacteria.1  The active agent is a compound of titanium dioxide, a white material that already plays a role in many everyday commodities, such as white paint, foods, and sunscreen lotions.  When exposed to certain types of light, titanium dioxide breaks down dirt and kills microbes. 

Self-cleaning cotton fabrics have been created before, but they only worked when exposed to ultraviolet rays, while this new fabric is activated by ordinary sunlight.  This means clothing items can be cleaned and deodorized simply by hanging them on a clothesline outside. 

To further accelerate the discoloration of stains, nanoparticles composed of silver and iodine are included in the coating.  One important characteristic of this coating is that even if the clothing is washed and dried in the traditional way, it will remain intact. 

This self-cleaning property of titanium dioxide is also being leveraged for other applications, including patio furniture, paints for buildings, and coatings for glass surfaces. 

In another important development, researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology have developed a coating with a surface designed to enable mobile phones that will remain clean from fingerprints, cars that never need to be washed, and aircraft that need less frequent repainting.2 

Similar coatings have been around for years; they have on their surfaces nano-sized molecular groups that provide these specific properties.  But up to now, these molecular groups have been easily and irreversibly damaged by minor contact with the surface, causing these properties to be quickly lost...

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