LOWELL, Mass. - Thanks to the support of the Pernick Fund, faculty and students at UMass Lowell and Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art in Israel have joined forces to study and produce new coatings that make surfaces from glass to metal self-cleaning.
That research, which is covered by two patents, could revolutionize the aerospace, automotive and building industries, among others.
The coatings developed by faculty and student researchers in plastics engineering make surfaces superhydrophobic and are not only self-cleaning, but also non-adhesive and non-wetting. That, in turn, means they resist corrosion, reducing and friction, which can translate into a wide range of commercial applications that reduce maintenance and pollution. For example, a surface such as the exterior of an aircraft can be treated with a coating that will significantly decrease accumulation of snow and ice, which can lead to the reduction or elimination of the need to use chemical de-icers.
The coatings can be sprayed onto large, new and existing surfaces - such as kitchen appliances and medical devices - and are based on commercially-available materials. A range of other potential applications exist in the construction, agriculture, optical, aerospace and military sectors.
Through the Pernick Fund, Tehila Nahum was able to come to UMass Lowell to earn her Ph.D. in plastics engineering and conduct research in superhydrophobic coatings alongside top faculty from both the university and Shenkar College.
The Pernick Fund was founded by David Pernick, who graduated from UMass Lowell (then Lowell Textile Institute) in 1941 with a degree in textile engineering. Before Pernick passed away in 2014, he and his wife Frances celebrated the 60th anniversary of his graduation by establishing the International Program of Graduate Studies in Plastics Engineering. The program endowed by the Pernicks brings doctoral students like Nahum from Shenkar College to UMass Lowell and faculty from Lowell to Israel to conduct research and participate in other academic collaboration.
As she was earning her doctorate at UMass Lowell, Nahum conducted research with the university's Center for High-Rate Nanomanufacturing, working with the team that developed novel superhydrophobic coating formulations that offer improved durability in terms of abrasion, erosion and scratch resistance and a process to apply the coatings in a broad range of conditions. Working with Nahum were UMass Lowell Plastics Engineering professors Joey Mead and Carol Barry and Shenkar College professors Hanna Dodiuk and Samuel Kenig.
"The importance of the joint research and academic partnership is in the synergy of theoretical know-how and technical infrastructure that the two institutions share," said Kenig.
The innovative results of their work - coatings that are easier to apply, lower in cost and more durable than competitors' - are protected by two patents and have been published in leading academic journals and presented at technical conferences.
"The joint intellectual property reinforces and enhances the academic and technical standing of the researchers from UMass Lowell and Shenkar," Kenig said.
"We are excited about the possibilities for this technology. Without the support of the Pernick Fund, along with that of the federal government and Commonwealth of Massachusetts over the years, none of this would have been possible. It is truly a story where philanthropy has led not only to educating our future researchers, but also to strengthening the local economy and creating new materials to solve real-world problems," said Mead, whose roles also including serving as director of UMass Lowell's Nanomanufacturing Center.
"I have found this collaboration with faculty and students from Shenkar College to be one of the most enjoyable experiences of my professional career. I look forward to more great work as we go forward," said Mead, who was recently named this year's UMass Lowell Distinguished University Professor.
The research also formed the basis of Nahum's doctoral dissertation, which she successfully completed and defended in 2016. With her education and hands-on research experience with UMass Lowell and Shenkar College, Nahum has gone on to work as a principal formulations engineer at SLIPS Technologies in Cambridge.
Nahum said her research through the Pernick Fund provided real-world, industry-oriented research experience that has given her an edge as a working professional.
"I am really thankful to the professors from both UMass Lowell and Shenkar College," said Nahum, who came to the university with her master's degree from Shenkar College and was able to complete her Ph.D. in less than three years and shares two patents on their research.
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 18,000 students bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. http://www.uml.edu
How it works: Superhydrophobic surface
Superhydrophobic surfaces repel water and reduce ice adhesion. In more technical terms, a superhydrophobic surface is characterized by a contact angle of a water droplet exceeding 160 degrees and sliding angle less than 10 degrees.
Such surfaces are obtained with a combination of hierarchical surface geometry and hydrophobic chemistry. The resulting innovative technology has significantly improved durability and demonstrated retention of the superhydrophobic characteristics under harsh environment. The developed technology demonstrated the applicability of the coatings to different surfaces and materials, and using different applications techniques such as spin, spray and dip coatings which are standard in the industry.