Saturday, 25 February 2012

A Surfer's Paradise

Ever since I was eight I have loved surfing.  My family was on a trip to Australia and we were in a place called Surfer's Paradise.   It is an awesome experience being eight and body boarding on six foot waves.  The power of the water and mother nature is amazing.  Seeing guys harness that raw power and riding those huge swells on small pieces of board and wax made me fall in love with the sport. It always amazes me that simple materials like nanochemcicals can be used to help surfers maneuver in such extreme conditions like riding a huge barrel in a Tsunami (video below).

Super-hydrophobicity has revolutionized the sport though by providing superhydrophobic surfaces on the rails. Waxing your board can do so much but this new stuff adds even more of a hydrophobic surface to the board.  As it says in the press release: 'NanoTune creates a super-hydrophobic barrier by forming a chemical bond with the rails and bottom deck of a surfboard, lowering the surface energy of the material, which in turn increases the surface tension. The combined effect is to create a clear coating that lessens drag, which leads to increased speed and manoeuvrability.  After being treated with NanoTune, tiny water droplets simply bead on the surface instead of grouping together. Surfaces that are not treated with NanoTune will allow water to spread over the surface rather than beading up, creating greater friction.'  Pretty gnarly.  Understanding surface tension is helping surfers around the world.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

5 things you Should Know about Contact Lenses

If you wear contact lenses you may be interested in knowing at least a couple of facts about the thing that touches your eyes so intimately.  Without surface tension of the eye fluid

1)  Can be credited to Leonardo De Vinci by him wanting understand how to alter the corneal power by submerging the eye in a bowl of water.  I guess altering would be the key word here.  This reference can be found in his 1508 Codex of the eye, Manual D.

2)  Your tears not only are used for when you are crying (which are something entirely different) than the tears that bathe the eye, wash out dust and debris to keep the eye moist.  Tears also contain enzymes like phospholipase A2 (also in snake and bee venom which destroys cell membranes) and lysozyme (also found in egg whites which is used to lyse bacteria).  These neutralize the microorganisms that could colonize the eye. Tears are essential for good eye health.

The tears have a surface tension of 42-46 mN/m composed of water, the enzymes mentioned above, and some lipids.  When you take out the lipids (lipids are surface reactive) you get a surface tension of 53-55-5 mN/m.  The surface tension of the fluid is probably necessary to maintain the proper interaction and eliminate dryness of the contact.

3) Sir John Hershel suggested that one could use glass and animal gelly for the contact lenses to conform to the spherical nature of the eye.  This mathematician knew what he was talking about.  And it wasn't until 140 years later that some Czech chemists made some hydrophobic gels that were approved by the FDA.  CIBA Vision later came out with some silicone gels that had oxygen permeability.  Hydrogels can be studied nicely using langmuir blodgett troughs. 

4) It seems like something out of a science fiction movie but some contacts can fix forms of dyslexia.  Special filters on contact lenses are used help with diseases like dyslexia.  Chromagen offers an solutions for  ' dyslexics who suffer from the perceptual distortion of text that makes reading more difficult.'

Bionic lenses fitted with LEDs and lenses fitted with cameras are also being developed.  

5) surfactants in the contact lens solution systems is useful not only to solubilize the organic tear film components adsorbed on lens surface, but also to disrupt microbial membranes. In order to disrupt the microbial membranes and provide best wetting their critical micelle concentration needs to be optimized.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Magnetic Soap for Oil Spills

Regular soap (left) and magnetic soap (right) with magnet. 

Soap has been around for a long time.  In itself soap can be changed by changing the amphiphilic head to cationic, anionic or nonionic moeities and the tale can be changed to a long tail, short tail or a tail with a ring structure for example.  All these properties help to change the critical micelle concentration and to aid in the lowering of the surface tension of water.  A surface tension device can help you tweak the formulations of the different contents of these different surfactants for use in a variety of application.  However, there could be so much more that one can do with surfactants and soaps in general that one can do.  Imagine for a second light reactive surfactants (respond to different kinds of light), soaps that respond to different kinds of heat (probably done already), soaps that respond to compression (could make some kind of foam that you can stand ontop of) or even soaps that are magnetic.

The last one has been accomplished recently by British scientists at the University of Bristol led by Julian Eastoe.  How did they achieve this wonderful task?  They did this by dissolving iron in a range of different surfactants.  The surfactants used are not even novel but rather just ones you find in everyday materials like mouthwash and fabric softener.  The addition of the iron creates metallic centers within the soap particles (as a biologist I am thinking something like iron in attaching to the heme groups). 

However, when they tested it magic seemed to happen.  They took a magnet to the test tube containing the soap and a less dense organic layer (probably some kind of oil).  So oil on  top soap on the bottom.  When the magnet was introduced the iron-rich soap overcame gravity, as well as the interfacial tension between the water and the oil.  The right image above shows the oil being disrupted in this case.

This research is interesting and has several implications in science and research and ecology.  They report that the soap's electrical conductivity, surface tension, melting point, size and shape of the aggregates and how it dissolves in water are altered by the magnet which acts a simple on/off switch when introduced.  The use of this on/off switch might make these kind of surfactants used only when it is needed and could potentially be removed after they are used.  It is noted that this could help clean up oil spills better like the one that British Petroleum helped cause a couple of years ago in the Gulf of Mexico.

 Taken originally from TG Daily Jan 24th, 2012.

Extra note:  One has to think whether a few pints did not help them think about adding iron to soap.   Alcohol helps science once again.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Groundbreaking theory about surface tension

I am very interested in Biodiesel from algae.  Who wouldn't be?  It has many benefits to use:

1) fast to produce
2) absorbs CO2 from the air
3) very cost effective when it can be refined

So I have looked into the technology for using in the biodiesel industry.  For example some scientists have invented a single seperation process for the oils and the bulk cellulose.  Other scientists have created tanks to absorb light so algae can be grown in more than a single layer.  Biomat has applied a theory of water to develop a new container based algae growth system. “We focus on the water, not the algae,” said Miguel Cizin, CEO and co-founder of Biomat.  To do that, the Biomat process attempts to induce a form of energy in the water—possibly infrared light—that charges the water to create the exclusion zone compartments, which Cizin said provides an atmosphere that helps algae grow faster and without the need for chemicals.

So what is this theory of water and what are exclusion zones?  The Pollack laboratory in Washington State whose website heading says, 'Unlocking natures deeply held secrets,' has a theory about water that is groundbreaking.  Pollack believes that water molecular levels (near the surface of water) are not limited to one to two solid levels as the common belief holds.  The water could be layered to some 2 to 3 million strata rather.  Our current belief is that the water is ordered by two to three tightly bound surface-level layers then water molecules in the bulk water are random.   The water he says, 'is supposed to act more like a liquid crystal,'  He explains this explanation with the clouds which are composed mostly of water but are stable in the air somehow.  Clouds have nearly 100% humidity but have air right next to it at 0% humidity.  How is this possible?   An exclusion zone (the liquid crystal) consisting of several hundred micrometers may contains layers below the surface that can be changed by photons from ordinary sunlight.  Then water separates the charge and can builds the charged ordered exclusion zone.  Pollack relates light-induced charge separation to resemble the first steps of photosynthesis which Biomat would like to use in their algae production.  Hopefully with that we can lower our reliance on fuel. 

Further reading:

Yoo, H, Baker, DR, Pirie, CM, Hovakeemian, B, and Pollack, GH: Characteristics of water adjacent to hydrophilic interfaces.  Water: the Forgotten Molecule, pp 123-136.  Ed: D LeBihan, and H Fukuyama, Pan Stanford, 2011. link
● Yoo, H, Paranji, R, and Pollack, GH: Impact of hydrophilic surfaces on interfacial water dynamics probed with NMR spectroscopy.  J Phys Chem Letters 2: 532- 536, 2011.
● Pollack, GH, Figueroa, X, and Zhao, Q: The minimal cell and life's origin: role of water and aqueous interfaces. The Minimal Cell: The Biophysics of Cell Compartment and the Origin of Cell Functionality.  Ed: PL Luisi, and P Stano, Springer, 2011.
● Safronov, AP, Shakhnovich, M, Kalganov, A, Kamalov, IA, Shklyar, TF, Blyakhman, FA, and Pollack, GH: DC electric fields produce periodic bending of polyelectrolyte gels. Polymer 52: 2430-2436, 2011.
● Bhalerao, A, and Pollack, GH: Light-induced effects on Brownian displacements.  J Biophotnics 4(3): 172-177, 2011.
● Nhan, DT, and Pollack, GH: Effect of particle diameter on exclusion-zone size.  In press Int'l J Design Nature, 2011.
● Figueroa, X, and Pollack, GH: Exclusion-Zone formation from discontinuous Nafion surfaces. In press Design and Nature, 2011.