1Water Desalination and Reuse Center, Chemical and Life Sciences and Engineering Division, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia
Correspondence: Professor P Wang, Water Desalination and Reuse Center, Chemical and Life Sciences and Engineering Division, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Thuwal 23955-6900, Saudi Arabia. E-mail: email@example.com
Received 14 November 2011; Revised 3 January 2012; Accepted 16 January 2012
Surface chemistry: Switching affinity
Peng Wang and co-workers have devised smart surfaces that have switchable wettability – affinity to oil and water phases. Such materials are useful for applications that require oil/water separation, and might help clean up oil spills in future. The researchers have endowed materials with smart surfaces by decorating them with a polymer made of two flexible blocks with different properties. One block exhibits a high affinity to oil phases and low affinity to aqueous ones, while the other changes its wettability but also its shape through protonation, depending on the acidity of the aqueous phase. At different pHs, therefore, either one block or the other is predominantly exposed to the solution, endowing the surface with different wettability characteristics. These smart surfaces can be coated on commonly used materials such as textiles and sponges, and showed good properties for oil capture and release applications.