Waterproofing at your fingertips - Durham University

Millions of mobile phones are protected from water damage by super-repellent nanocoatings invented in Durham University’s chemistry laboratories.

Use your mobile in the rain or drop it in a puddle and it will probably still work. You may take this for granted but millions of mobile devices and other products are protected by super-repellent coatings invented at Durham University.

The extremely thin polymer film, known as a nanocoating, has been applied to the surfaces of eight million mobile phones, three million pairs of footwear, 60 per cent of the world’s hearing aids and 100 million pipette tips.

The invention has been commercialised by the British company, P2i, which is the world leader in liquid repellent nanocoating technology and was named ‘most innovative company in Europe’ in the 2012 International Business Awards. Customers include household names such as Nokia, Motorola and Alcatel (mobile phones), Timberland and Hi-Tec (footwear) and HLT (hearing aids).

P2i retains strong links with Durham University. Its Chief Technical Officer Steve Coulson co-founded the company in 2004 after working on the technology for his PhD at Durham, supervised by Professor Jas Pal Badyal in the Department of Chemistry.  The PhD project was to make soldiers’ uniforms resistant to chemical weapons for the Ministry of Defence but it soon became clear that there were wider applications.

The secret of the Durham technology is plasmachemical deposition – a process of breaking up molecules into electrically charged particles to coat surfaces. The reliability of electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets are dramatically increased because their outer and inner surfaces are protected from the effects of corrosion and water damage.

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