Barnacles face smooth enemy: Unstickiest coating yet offers protection for yachts and carpets

ONE OF the greatest achievements of space exploration - the non-stick frying pan - is about to be eclipsed by the most non-sticky substance yet.

Scientists have made a material that is even better at repelling unwanted liquids and stains than Teflon, the substance used to coat frying pans and spaceships.

The inventor of the new non-stick material said it could be used to protect the paintwork of cars or homes. 'It would make cleaning cars easy because insects don't stick to it,' Donald Schmidt, a senior scientist at the Dow Chemical Company in Midland, Michigan, said.

Coating wallpaper is another possible use for the non-stick material, which is colourless and can be applied like a paint. 'Children can write on it with a magic marker and you can wipe it clean with tissues,' Dr Schmidt said.

The complex chemistry employed to make the material is described in the journal Nature, published today. Robert Brady, a research chemist at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC, says in an accompanying article that the search for a true non-stick surface may be 'the chemical equivalent of the perpetual motion machine: earnestly desired, but unattainable'.

The improvements in non-stickiness of the new substance, however, put this goal potentially in reach, he told the Independent. 'Teflon's great stuff but you can't soften it so can't put it where you want it to be.' This substance is water-based and unlike Teflon, which is baked on to steel, can be applied at relatively low temperatures to a wide variety of surfaces.

Potential applications range from anti-ice paints for aircraft to anti-stain coatings for lavatories. Dr Brady said it could become the ideal non-stick and non-toxic paint to stop barnacles living on the hulls of yachts. 'We've been trying to do that for 18 years but the barnacles are smarter than we are.'

Another use is as an invisible sealant for upholstery and furniture. 'That wine stain on the carpet could be a thing of the past,' Dr Brady said.

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