Frugal Indian housewives, who extract the very last traces of condiments from unyielding bottles and jars, will be the first to appreciate the genius of LiquiGlide, which Time magazine has named one of the “Best Inventions of the Year 2012.”

Prof. Kripa Varanasi’s group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a super-slippery, non-toxic coating for the insides of food containers, so these surfaces will concede the stored condiment down to the last drop. No scraping, rinsing or special maneuvers required. “And the compound is safe enough to eat,” says Varanasi.

The group demonstrated the proof-of-concept with a bottle of free-flowing tomato ketchup. Saving a few milliliters of ketchup per bottle may not seem like a big deal, but the numbers add up. Worldwide, close to one million pounds of food gets wasted each year because of unyielding dispensers, these researchers estimate.

Of course, the folks at the MIT Lab for Nano-engineered Surfaces, Interfaces & Coatings didn’t set out to solve the problem of tricky ketchup bottles nor is it the ultimate use for LiquiGlide. Designing super-hydrophobic surfaces that can repel water droplets – think of lotus leaves in a pond – has been a key research interest for the group.

They researchers have tested LiquiGlide on materials used to make food containers —glass, ceramic, metal and plastic. “But the coating need not confined to one formulation – unlike, say, Teflon,” Varanasi points out. “Depending on the substance that needs to slide, we can design different coatings for different applications. The underlying principle remains the same – that is the real beauty of this.”

There are possible industrial applications. Hydrophobic coatings can keep ice off the wings of an airplane, for instance. The researchers could use this to address the “flow assurance” problem of the oil and natural gas industry where insides of pipes sees buildup of organic compounds that clog supply networks.

In the consumer space, LiquiGlide could find uses in the health and beauty industry. “Think of all those bottles with pumps to draw expensive lotions out – that design can change,” says Varanasi. “That also means less plastic is needed to make these containers.” Users of lotions and potions too are sure to appreciate an invention that lets them get that last drop out, effortlessly.

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