EVERYTHING SLIPS—Design of Novel Non-Fouling Materials
Written by Aditi Risbud
On Thursday evening, Joanna Aizenberg of Harvard University gave the first of two MRS Medal lectures. Aizenberg pursues multidisciplinary research that includes biomimetics, crystal engineering and smart materials. She was honored for “developing new synthesis routes inspired by biological principles for the fabrication of advanced, complex, multifunctional materials and devices.”
Aizenberg is a prominent scientist in the field of biologically-inspired materials research, and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, American Philosophical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and as a Fellow of the Materials Research Society and of the American Physical Society. In addition to her many honors, she also introduced the popular “Science as Art” feature to MRS meetings.
In her talk, she noted everything—from snow to arteries to solar panels—gets dirty. Despite scientists’ efforts to create new materials and devices, dirt compromises the function of anything created in the laboratory. Therefore, new approaches are needed to develop non-fouling materials. Superhydrophobic surfaces inspired by lotus leaves and butterflies can provide a way to tackle the dirt by repelling water, but they are limited when translated to real-world situations.
Recently, Aizenberg’s team developed slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces, or SLIPS, based on structures found in fish and carnivorous plants. These engineered surfaces allow a near-frictionless surface to be formed in all materials types, in any shape, and at any scale. What’s more, these surfaces can be used in various environments, including at high and low temperatures and underwater.
“In just six years, we are now capable of creating these surfaces in all material types, we can make them mechanically robust, and we are beginning to understand the mechanisms of how these materials work,” Aizenberg said. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg, and many interesting things can be done with this approach.”
The MRS Medal, endowed by Toh-Ming Lu and Gwo-Ching Wang, is awarded for a specific outstanding recent discovery or advancement that has a major impact on the progress of a materials-related field.