A new material developed by Duke University engineers may help ships rid accumulated scum from their vessels. The material can be applied like paint to the hull of a ship and can move in response to an electric current to dislodge bacteria and prevent accumulations on the ship’s surface. Bacterial buildup on ships increases drag and reduces the fuel economy of the vessel, as well as blocking or clogging undersea sensors.
The material works by physically moving at the microscopic level to knock the bacteria away. This avoids the use of bacteria-killing paints, which can contain heavy metals or other toxic chemicals that might accumulate in the water and have adverse affects on marine organisms.
The Duke researchers say similar types of materials could be used in other settings where bacterial buildup presents problems, such as on the surfaces of artificial joint implants or water purification membranes.
“We have developed a material that ‘wrinkles,’ or changes its surface in response to a stimulus, such as stretching or pressure or electricity,” said Duke engineer Xuanhe Zhao, assistant professor in Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. “This deformation can effectively detach biofilms and other organisms that have accumulated on the surface.”
The project is funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the MRSEC. Other members of the Duke team are Phanindhar Shivapooja, Qiming Wang and Beatriz Orihuela. The results of the Duke studies were published online in the journal Advanced Materials.