Researchers at Nokia’s research lab in Cambridge have demonstrated a nanostructure coating for mobile phones that makes them ultra resistant to water and stains.
The scientists at the Nokia Research Centre (NRC) in Cambridge say they are “pretty close” to perfecting the superhydrophobic coating so that it can be used on the exterior surface of phones.
The technology is already sufficiently mature to be used on the inside of the phone to protect the electronics from water, but it needs to be made tougher to use it on the outside.
Chris Bower, the principal scientist at the NRC in Cambridge said: “The biggest challenge is making nanostructures robust enough to withstand every day wear and tear. You could put a superhydrophobic coating inside a device now because people can’t degrade it, it can’t get knocked around in your pocket.
"To put it on the outside is much, much tougher. But you want it on the outside because that’s where you see the effects of keeping your phone really clean. It will improve the water resistance, fingerprint resistance and antireflection properties of the device.”
The nano-coating works by trapping a layer of air around the object so that water and dirt never actually touch the surface, they just bounce off.
The lab has set up a demonstrator using a specially coated Nokia Lumia 710 and a graphene sensor. When water is dripped on to the handset it bounces off onto a slither of nano-coated graphene underneath. The coated sensor detects the water drop and triggers a high speed camera to capture slow-mo footage of the superhydrophobic effect in action.
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Graphene is being touted as a miracle material in its own right: “it’s the strongest known material, it’s the hardest known material and it has electric performance 100 times better than silicon,” says Bower. It is already being used in anti-static coatings and Bower believes it will be used as a direct replacement for the transparent conductor Indium Tin Oxide in display screens.
Cambridge Network is staging a special event on graphene on Wednesday evening (March 14). Prof Andrea Ferrara of Cambridge University’s engineering department, who is leading development of the roadmap for the European Commission’s €1 billion graphene research project will deliver the lecture.
Nokia’s Cambridge lab was established in 2007 through a partnership with the University of Cambridge. Based at the University’s West Cambridge campus, the lab is pursuing a long term programme of joint research projects with the nanoscience centre and electrical division of the engineering department, among others.
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