Monday, 14 November 2011

Nanodry

  I've always been interested in nanotechnology. In part it's because it winds up the Soil Association, who really don't like it. But mostly because there's something fascinating about technology that uses components that are verging on the quantum scale. And there's the 'Fascinating Voyage/Incredible Shrinking Man' aspect of seeng the world differently when looking from a very small perspective. As Richard Feynman said in a piece on the subject, there's plenty of room at the bottom.

Although the pinups of nanotechnology are nanobots, which for the moment remain more comfortable in science fiction than in a manufacturing plant, the everyday uses are both more mundane and more realistic. Probably the most widely used at the moment is in sunblock, which makes use of nanoparticles to block the nasty UV, but I rather like the look of a nanotechology being used to make trainers and other flexible materials water repellant. Let's face it, there's nothing more depressing that a pair of trainers the water has leaked through. The smell of soggy trainers is bad enough at the best of times, and the feel of that water coming through is horrible.

Abingdon-based P2i have produced a nanotechnology coating that is 'hydrophobic.' This possibly isn't the best choice of adjective, as hydrophobia is another name for rabies, but the idea is simple enough - we're talking molecules that don't like water and repel it, while allowing the material to 'breathe.' The neat thing about working at the nanolevel is that water works that way too. Unlike ordinary coatings, this stuff takes on water molecules at their own scale, reducing their chances of slipping through the gaps.

Apparently the technology is already used by a range of snazzy sports brands, is employed on around 50 percent of hearing aids (who wants a soggy hearing aid?) and is soon to appear on mobile phones. But the specific application that caught my attention was the pictured running shoe from Magnum, which has the added benefit of a £10 donation to Help for Heroes from each pair sold.

In good hair product advertising mode, let me put on my white coat so I can say here is the science stuff and lazily reproduce some information from a press release:
The liquid-repellent nano-coating technology is based on PhD research carried out by Stephen Coulson, at Durham University. It originated as a project within the UK Government's Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL), to make soldiers' protective clothing more effective against chemical attack while maintaining comfort.

P2i's technology employs a special pulsed ionized gas (plasma), which is created within a vacuum chamber, to attach a nanometer-thin polymer layer over the entire surface of a product.  This dramatically lowers the product's surface energy, so that when liquids come into contact with it, they form beads and simply roll off.

The nano-coating technology can deliver performance benefits for a wide range of materials, including polymers, metals, fabrics, leather, ceramics, glass and paper. Even complex, 3D objects incorporating several different materials can be treated successfully.
Ooh, er. Apparently the trainer to look out for is the V-Lite Intrepid HPi H4H, which isn't the catchiest of names, but hey. They are rather scarily priced at £100 (even more scarily they're £175 on Amazon, which I like to think is a mistake), which is more than I would pay for a pair of plimsoles, but if you are into this kind of thing I'm given to believe that this not usual pricing for such hi-tech kit.

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