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A team of Harvard researchers has invented a way to remove ice and frost from all metal surfaces. The discovery has direct implications for a wide range of surfaces such as those used in airplanes, refrigeration systems, wind turbines, ...

A team of researchers at Harvard University has invented a process to protect any metal surface from ice and frost. The technology prevents ice caps from developing on these surfaces. 

The discovery, published online as a manuscript in the journal ACS Nano on June 10, has direct implications for a wide range of metal surfaces, such as those used in aircraft, refrigeration systems, wind turbines, ships and construction.

The group of researchers, led by Joanna Aizenberg and Amy Smith Berylson, Professor of Materials Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and a core faculty member at the Wyss Inspired Engineering Institute at Harvard University, had previously introduced the idea that it was possible to create technology to prevent ice by using coatings inspired by the water-repellent lotus leaf. 

"The lack of any practical way to eliminate the intrinsic defects that contribute to liquid condensation and freezing has raised the question of whether any solid surface, "regardless of its topography or treatment," can really be ice - preventative, freezing forming conditions," said Aizenberg.

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To combat this problem, researchers have created a radically different technology, which is suitable for both high humidity and extreme pressure. The challenge was to apply this technology to metal surfaces, particularly on commonplace materials, from airplane wings to building balustrades. Aizenberg and his team developed a kind of metal mantle with a raw material to which the lubricant adheres. A coating can be finely sculpted to lock in the lubricant and can be applied to a large metal surface. In addition, the coating is non-toxic and anti-corrosive.

To demonstrate the robustness of their technology, researchers successfully applied it to refrigerator cooling fins and tested it under a long, deep freeze. Compared to existing "Frost-free" cooling systems, this innovation prevents freezing much more effectively and for a longer period of time.

"Unlike lotus leaf and surface ice that breaks up in high humidity, GLISSADES is designed to completely prevent ice formation at temperatures just below 0 degrees Celsius, while significantly reducing ice build-up and adhesion under freezing," said Aizenberg.

The new technology also reduces energy costs. This approach to the control of slippery metal surfaces is very promising for wide application in the refrigeration and aviation industry and other high humidity environments. For example, once the coating is applied, to remove ice from roofs, wires, wind turbines, all it takes is a simple tilt, slight agitation, such as wind and simple vibration.

"This new approach to ice-phobic materials is a truly revolutionary idea that offers the means to transform the energy and safety costs associated with ice. And we are actively working with the refrigeration and aviation industries to bring it to market," says Aizenberg.

Aizenberg is also a professor of chemistry and chemical biology. S. Susan and Kenneth L. Wallach are Professors at theRadcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and director of the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology at Harvard.

Co-authors include Philseok Kim, member of Technology Development at the Wyss and Seas Institute; Tak-sing Wong of Wyss and Seas; Jack Alvarenga and Michael J. Kreder of Wyss, and Wilmer E. Adorno-Martinez of the University of Puerto Rico.

The authors received support from the Center for Materials Science and Engineering Research at Harvard University for some of this work, which was carried out at the Center for Nanoscale Systems at Harvard University, supported by the National Science Foundation. In addition, the team has been recognized by the Croucher Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship and the REU BRIDGE, co-funded by the ASSURE program of the Department of Defense, in partnership with the National Science Foundation's REU site program.

(Source: Michael Patrick Rutter / Harvard Gazette  - 14 June 2012)

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