Just back from several rainy days in the field, soldiers at Fort Polk in Louisiana were asked what they would wish for if they had a magic wand. In less than a second they replied, "Waterproof everything!"
Their wish has been taken seriously by Dr. Karen Gleason, MIT Professor of Chemical Engineering, who is working at the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies to find a way to coat fine objects. Researchers in her lab use a process called hot filament chemical vapor deposition (HFCVD) to deposit nanolayers of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, also known as Teflon). The coatings they work on have the same chemical composition as one that Dupont would put on a non-stick frying pan, but they are at least a thousand times thinner.
The researchers have demonstrated the technique by using a very thin layer of a water-repellent coating to waterproof many kinds of materials without changing the original look or feel. The technique has many potential applications, including fabric coatings for soldier uniforms, coatings for fine wire neural probes, and insulation for integrated circuits. Currently, Gleason is collaborating with Professor Alexander Klibanov of the Department of Chemistry to find a way to combine her team's waterproofing technique with a microbe-killing fabric treatment that Klibanov's group has invented.
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