‘Omniphobic’ smartphone display coating repels it all, from water to peanut butter

Touchscreens are awesome. The thing that’s not awesome about them? The fact that our tendency to carry our smartphones everywhere means that the screen regularly becomes a target for grime. Things get even worse when there are kids around, thanks to their unerring ability to find the nearest sticky substance for your phone to come into contact with.

This problem is something that researchers at the University of Michigan may have come up with an answer to, however. They’ve created a clear “omniphobic” coating that can be painted or sprayed onto a surface to make it repel a wide range of materials — everything from water and oil to alcohol and even peanut butter will simply slide off the surface.

“We have developed a smooth omniphobic coating which is easily applied to a broad range of materials,” Mathew Boban, a materials science and engineering graduate researcher on the project, told Digital Trends. “The key challenge was to tune the amount of separation between a liquid-repellent molecule and a binder that sticks it to a surface, so that a very dense and smooth layer of these molecules is formed. Because the coating is smooth and entirely solid, it is more transparent, durable, and stable than many other liquid repellent surfaces, including those using rough textures to entrap tiny air pockets, liquid lubricants, or single layers of repellent molecules.”

omniphobic screen coating clear 1
University of Michigan

In addition to smartphones and other mobile devices, Boban suggested that the special coating could be usefully applied to other surfaces such as windows to allow them to stay clean for longer. Other applications might include use in refrigeration, power generation, and oil refining. That’s because all of these industries depend on the condensation of liquids, and this coating could increase their efficiency by letting them shrug off condensed water and chemicals more quickly. Finally, it could help improve microfluidic devices used for biomedical research and diagnostics.

“Using the separation-tuning approach, we aim to develop a range of omniphobic coatings using different combinations of binders and liquid-repellent molecules with varying chemistry,” he said. “This will allow us to optimize cost, safety, and performance, and scale up production.”

A paper describing the work, titled “Smooth, All-Solid, Low-Hysteresis, Omniphobic Surfaces with Enhanced Mechanical Durability,” was recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.