Inventors of the Month - December 2016

This article was posted on: December 8, 2016

Jonathan Boreyko and the Virginia Tech Nature-Inspired Fluids and Interfaces Lab

“Passive Anti-Frosting Surface Comprised of Microscopic Wettability Patterns Containing Sacrificial Ice”

The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation recognizes the Nature-Inspired Fluids and Interfaces Lab, led by Jonathan Boreyko, as Inventors of the Month for December 2016 for the invention of "Passive Anti-Frosting Surface Comprised of Microscopic Wettability Patterns Containing Sacrificial Ice," as disclosed to Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, Inc.

Currently, there is not an effective way to passively suppress the growth of frost in chilled and humid environments. Traditional active methods and techniques of utilizing heat or chemicals to prevent frost buildup are costly and environmentally harmful. Boreyko intends to fix this issue with this invention.

Inspired by the shell of the Namib Desert beetle that has unique patterns to collect water, Boreyko was able to create a passive anti-frosting surface that greatly suppressed the in-plane growth of frost. By laying down microscopic wettability patterns of hydrophilic stripes over a hydrophobic background, dilute ice patterns are formed that serve as humidity sinks to prevent the growth of condensation or frost anywhere else on the surface.

Analogous to the salt crystals used to combat icing for centuries, these ice patterns exhibit a depressed vapor pressure which prevents water vapor from reaching the nearby surface to nucleate as condensation or frost. However, unlike salts which get diluted over time and lose their effectiveness as humidity sinks, the low pressure above ice remains constant even as it harvests water vapor. By designing the period between adjacent stripes of ice such that the dry zones overlap, frost and condensation cannot form anywhere between the ice stripes patterned over the surface. Currently, Boreyko is trying to replicate these findings with micro-grooved surfaces, which would be more practical than chemical patterns and potentially useful for preventing ice buildup on vehicles, wind turbines, airplanes, and HVAC systems.

Image of dry surface with the exception of sacrificial ice stripes to prevent frost buildup.

Researcher Jonathan BoreykoJonathan Boreyko (shown here at work in the NIFI lab) is an Assistant Professor currently leading the Nature-Inspired Fluids and Interfaces (NIFI) Lab, where natural design and phenomena are researched to innovate materials and systems. He received dual B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering and physics at Trinity College and obtained a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University before joining Virginia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics (BEAM). His interests include interfacial phenomena, surface wettability, biomimetics, phase-change heat transfer, biological membranes, and nanostructured surfaces. His research has been covered by Science magazine, The New York Times, Discovery Channel Canada, and Popular Science.

Graduate Student Saurabh Nath, who came to Virginia Tech after earning a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Jadavpur University in India, contributed to the development of this invention. Additionally, two undergraduate researchers, Caitlin E. Bisbano and Grady J. Iliff, are also co-inventors on the patent application. In Summer 2016, these students helped create and run a summer camp module called “Jumping Drops and Ice Bridges!” that taught concepts behind designing an anti-frosting surface to 8 different summer camps of middle school and high school students.

Outdoor game played at summer camp to teach the students how frost grows over a surface and how to stop it. Each person represented a water/ice molecule. Boreyko is at far left and Saurabh Nath is fourth from the left.

Summer camp: Grady at far left and Caitlin Bisbano at far right.

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