Researchers at Purdue University are about to make a lot of people very, very happy. They are hard at work on a plastic coating that, when applied to surfaces such as dinner dishes, allows oil and other gunk to slide right off — no detergent, no scrubbing, no hours spent slumped at the sink. The New York Times reports that this coating could have widespread use on flatware, mirrors, or even industrial equipment. According to the article, even "environmentalists concerned about all of the soap that disappears down the drain" or "detergents that end up in wastewater [causing] algae to bloom, among other effects" will be able to appreciate Professor Jeffrey P. Youngblood's research.
Youngblood has succeeded in chemically coating glass with his additive, and his next project is to make a liquid form that can be sprayed on various surfaces for lasting results. The article quotes a researcher from MIT who is amazed that Youngblood's project essentially has molecules rearranging themselves "so they can self-clean, rejecting grease." Researchers have compared the coating to Teflon because it encourages oil to bead up while another part of the "chain" of the polymer encourages "water to wash the oil away." In other words, in the future world of dishwashing, we won't need soap to displace oil or grease. We'll give the dishes a rinse, and the water will do the work.
Other implications of Youngblood's research could involve water purification, since the coating can be applied to filters, letting water pass through while oil collects. The Times quotes Youngblood, saying, he "was in discussions with companies about ways to further develop the coatings and additives." Next steps could include anything from fog-free bathroom mirrors to easily cleaned car windshields. The possibilities are endless.