Believe it or not, paper is "the material of the future," says Rebecca J. Rosen at The Atlantic. Scientists from the Italian Institute of Technology have developed a technique that imbues otherwise ordinary sheets of paper with water-repellant properties, potentially meaning no more soggy newspapers delivered to your doorstep. (At least for those of us who still have newspapers delivered.) Here's how they did it:
How can paper be waterproof?
The team discovered a way to treat paper with a chemical monomer to make it water-repellant. Instead of covering the entire sheet, the tiny monomer forms "a polymeric shell around each individual fiber of paper," study co-author Despina Fragouli tells MSNBC, forcing water droplets to slide right off. Once the monomer is added, the material "will still behave like regular paper, able to take on ink and fold," says Rosen.
How can you write on waterproof paper?
The new technology combines "wax particles with the polymer," Dr. Fragouli tells The Atlantic. The wax causes the coated paper to stay "sticky," boasting "high adhesion" while still being "hydrophobic" — essentially meaning that the ink sticks to the waxy paper while remaining unsullied by water.
What else can the paper do?
The monomer can be mixed with different nanoparticles, imbuing the paper with the special properties of whatever material is blended in. "If you add iron oxide nanoparticles to the polymer matrix, it's magnetic paper; silver nanoparticles give you antibacterial properties," says Jennifer Hicks at Forbes. Potentially, that means wallpaper you can stick refrigerator magnets on, or germ-killing packaging for your children's sandwiches. Glossy magazines in your doctor's waiting room could be free of nasty germs.
Where can I get this magic paper?
You'll have to be patient — the process isn't perfect yet. "In some instances, such as treatment with fluorescent of magnetic particles, the color changes a bit," says MSNBC. But "otherwise it's just like the paper on your desk."
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