Five cool things our surface scientists do

Surface science can make a big difference to our health, well-being and environment.

Our surface scientists at Durham have been working on a whole range of applications that have already changed our lives in some way (think mobile phones and puddles) and could make a real difference to people around the world, particularly in developing countries.

Here are five examples.

1. Cleaning up oil spills

Oil spills happen fairly often, including big ones in oceans and seas as well as smaller ones on industrial sites. All have a damaging impact on the environment and wildlife so there is a clear need to find new easy, quick ways to separate oil from water.

This is exactly what our surface scientists have done. They have invented a smart coating that can be sprayed onto a mesh. This can then separate oil from water and kill bacteria in the water at the same time. It could be a faster and more eco-friendly way to clean up oil.

2. Cleaning water supplies

A variation of the smart coating for oil has also been developed for cloths. Contaminated water can be ‘sieved’ through the cloths to get rid of pollution in water supplies in developing countries. The added bonus is that the cloths are cheap to make and recyclable.

3. Collecting water

Access to clean drinking water is a major problem in developing countries, especially in those places with dry climates. Our researchers have come up with a smart surface that can collect, channel and purify water from fog so that more people can have access to clean drinking water.

4. Fighting anti-biotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is a big issue world-wide with thousands of deaths as a result of infections. They are often spread via surfaces, whether that’s in hospitals, at home or at work. Our team has developed a coating for cloths which can not only kill the bacteria, but the cloths can also be re-used making them better suited for the environment than current disposable ones.

5. Waterproofing phones

Millions of us around the world can now drop our mobile phone in a puddle or down the toilet and find that it still works. This is thanks to a water-repellent coating developed here in our very own labs at Durham University.

Our team of surface scientists are always working on the next idea which can help to tackle some of the global challenges in society. We think this is pretty cool.

  • Find out how our researchers learn from nature for their inventions
  • Watch how the team separates oil from water
  • Have a look at undergraduate and postgraduate study opportunities in our Department of Chemistry

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