Surface hydration for antifouling and bio-adhesion

Surface hydration seems to play a crucial role in various maritime applications. Scientists have investigated the processes.

Mussels Image source: mdherren - Pixabay (symbol image).

Antifouling properties of materials play crucial roles in many important applications such as biomedical implants, marine antifouling coatings, biosensing, and membranes for separation. Poly(ethylene glycol) (or PEG) containing polymers and zwitterionic polymers have been shown to be excellent antifouling materials. It is believed that their outstanding antifouling activity comes from their strong surface hydration. On the other hand, it is difficult to develop underwater glues, although adhesives with strong adhesion in a dry environment are widely available. This is related to dehydration, which is important for adhesion for many cases while water is the enemy of adhesion.

Strong surface hydration in an aqueous environment

In a new research it was found that PEG containing polymers and zwitterionic polymers have very strong surface hydration in an aqueous environment, which is the key for their excellent antifouling performance. Because of the strong surface hydration, mussels do not settle on these surfaces even after binding to the surfaces with rubber bands. Studies indicate that their surface hydration is much weaker, and therefore mussels can generate adhesives to displace water to cause dehydration at the interface.

The experiments also showed that if mussels were forced to deposit adhesives onto the PEG containing polymers and zwitterionic polymers, interfacial dehydration did not occur. However, even with the strong interfacial hydration, strong adhesion between mussel adhesives and antifouling polymer surfaces was detected, showing that under certain circumstances, interfacial water could enhance the interfacial bio-adhesion.

The study has been published in Chemical Science, Issue 38, 2020.

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