Scientists used lasers to transform metals into water-repellent surfaces that could be used for applications such as rust prevention, anti-icing and sanitation.

The precise laser-patterning technique creates an intricate pattern of micro- and nanoscale structures that changes the properties of the metals, the University of Rochester reported.

"The material is so strongly water-repellent, the water actually gets bounced off. Then it lands on the surface again, gets bounced off again, and then it will just roll off from the surface," said Chunlei Guo, professor of optics at the University of Rochester.

The material is even more slippery than Teflon, which is often used to coat non-stick frying pans. With Teflon, one must tilt the surface to a 70-degree angle in order to make a liquid slide off; this new material would only need to be tilted at a five degree angle.

As water bounces off the material, it collects dust particles; to test this researchers took dust from a vacuum cleaner and dumped it on the surface. They found that about half the dust particles were removed with only three drops of water.

The material could be also be useful in developing countries where resources such as water are scarce.

"In these regions, collecting rain water is vital and using super-hydrophobic materials could increase the efficiency without the need to use large funnels with high-pitched angles to prevent water from sticking to the surface," Guo said. "A second application could be creating latrines that are cleaner and healthier to use."

In the future, the research team plans to work on increasing the speed patterning of these surfaces and using the technique on other materials such as semiconductors and dielectrics, which could lead to water repellent electronics.

The findings were published in a recent edition of the Journal of Applied Physics. Funding was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research.