Public understanding: Nature's Raincoats
Submitting InstitutionNottingham Trent University
Unit of AssessmentGeneral Engineering
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Chemical Sciences: Macromolecular and Materials Chemistry, Physical Chemistry (incl. Structural)
Engineering: Biomedical Engineering
Summary of the impact
Nature's Raincoats is a physical exhibition and a website providing
easily accessible information and resources. These entities have had
extensive use within the public understanding of superhydrophobic surfaces
(extremely repellent to water), including The Royal Society Summer Science
Exhibition, Cheltenham Science Festival, The Big Bang Fair, British
Science Festival and Techfest (India) — reaching thousands of people in
the UK and overseas. As well as impacting on improved public awareness,
the research informed website provides a direct route to research
expertise for companies within the UK and internationally and extends good
practice of working with industry e.g. Rolls Royce.
The research elucidates how the use of micro- and nano-topography can
amplify surface wetting properties beyond that achievable simply though
surface chemistry. Properties achieved include super water repellency
(superhydrophobicity), often referred to as the "Lotus Effect", and super
wetting. NTU researchers were one of the earliest UK groups to work in
this field, since 1999, and remain active today. The research is
underpinned by 9 EPSRC awards since 2001, including an EPSRC Platform
grant [EP/E063489/1] recognising the world-leading quality.
The work is wide-ranging in its breadth of relevance across science and
engineering with 6 example references provided in section 3 from more than
30 journal articles in the field.
Initial materials methods research showed how superhydrophobicity could
be intrinsically built into foams with surface properties renewed by
abrasion . Further original research showed how lithographic,
electro-deposition, etching and other techniques could produce these
properties, e.g. ref.  underpinned by grant [GR/R02184/01].
Ref. , a review article referring to the group's original research, is
the most cited article ever published in the leading journal Soft Matter
(490 times @ 25/09/13). With our original research papers, it established
the group as a world-leading source of expertise on materials methods in
Research developed from materials methods into applications of
superhydrophobicity. For example, the group demonstrated sensor responses
using switching concepts (e.g.  cited in Nature News 2005, grant
[GR/S34168/01], and subsequent articles).
We then established that superhydrophobic concepts within natural systems
could explain extreme water repellence arising from forest fires and use
of grey water for irrigation. For example, see  and related articles in
European Journal of Soil Science, Applied Physics Letters, Hydrological
Processes underpinned by grant [EP/C509161/1] in collaborations with
Geographers in Swansea. Ref  is an exemplar of published research on
using immersed superhydrophobic surfaces for underwater respiration, what
insect physiologists call a "plastron", without the need for a gill. The
group also demonstrated how lichens use a similar natural "Gore-Tex" type
membrane to buffer water and for plants to collect water using passive
methods; this led to collaborations with Biologists in Kleve (Germany).
The ability of such nano- and micro-structured surfaces to reduce
solid-liquid contact area and to create a surface retained layer of air
also became of interest in methods of drag reduction (grant
[EP/D500826/1]) both within lab-on-a-chip systems and surfaces used in
sailing. This led to collaborations with computational fluid dynamics and
marine engineers in Southampton (grant [EP/G057265/01]) and UK Sport as an
invited project of the UK Sport-EPSRC Olympics initiative in Team GB
preparations for the 2012 Olympics (grant [EP/E043097/1]).
The significance of the group's original research output and recognition
for world-leading expertise is evidenced by a range of invited highlight,
emerging area, comment and review articles for journals including, Analyst
(2004), Nature Materials (2007), Soft Matter (2008), Langmuir (2009), Soft
Matter (2010), Advances In Colloid and Interface Science (2010), Soft
Matter (2011) and the Journal of Polymer Science B: Polymer Phys. (2011).
Key researchers & Staff Development: Prof. G. McHale (Lect 1990, Prof
2002-2012); Prof. C.C. Perry (Lect 1993, Prof 2002-present); Dr. M.I.
Newton (Lect 1988, Reader 2001-present); Dr. N. Shirtcliffe (Senior
Research Fellow 2001, now Assoc. Prof. of Bionics & Biomimetic
Materials at Rhein-Waal University of Applied Sciences); Dr. P. Roach
(Ph.D. Researcher 2002, now Lecturer in Biomedical/Cell Engineering at
References to the research
References to key outputs from the research
The group have published over 120 Journal articles and 17 book chapters
Three references indicating the quality of the underpinning research
 Authors: Shirtcliffe, NJ; McHale, G; Newton, MI; Perry, CC; Title:
Intrinsically superhydrophobic organosilica sol-gel foams; Year: (2003);
Journal Title: LANGMUIR; Vol. 19 p5626; DOI
 Authors: Shirtcliffe, NJ; McHale, G; Newton, MI; Chabrol, G; Perry,
CC; Title: Dual-scale roughness produces unusually water-repellent
surfaces; Year: (2004); Journal Title: ADVANCED MATERIALS; Vol. 16 p1929;
 Authors: Roach, Paul; Shirtcliffe, Neil J.; Newton, Michael I.;
Title: Progess in superhydrophobic surface development; Year: (2008);
Journal Title: SOFT MATTER; Vol. 4 p224; DOI
Three additional references indicating the quality of the underpinning
 Authors: Shirtcliffe, NJ; Mchale, G; Newton, MI; Perry, CC; Roach, P;
Title: Porous materials show superhydrophobic to superhydrophilic
switching; Year: (2005); Journal Title: CHEMICAL COMMUNICATIONS; Issue 4
p3135; DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/b502896e
 Authors: Hamlett, Christopher A. E.; Shirtcliffe, Neil J.; McHale,
Glen; Ahn, Sujung; Bryant, Robert; Doerr, Stefan H.; Newton, Michael I.;
Title: Effect of Particle Size on Droplet Infiltration into Hydrophobic
Porous Media As a Model of Water Repellent Soil; Year: (2011); Journal
Title: ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY; Vol. 45 p9666; DOI
 Authors: Shirtcliffe, Neil J.; McHale, Glen; Newton, Michael I.;
Perry, Carole C.; Pyatt, F. Brian; Title: Plastron properties of a
superhydrophobic surface; Year: (2006); Journal Title: APPLIED PHYSICS
LETTERS; Vol. 89 p104600; DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.2347266
Evidence of the quality of the research: Key Research Grants
• Recipient: G. McHale, M.I. Newton & C.C. Perry; Grant title:
Superhydrophobic and superhydrophilic surfaces; Sponsor: EPSRC
GR/R02184/01 and MOD/Dstl Joint Grant Scheme; Award period dates:
2001-2004; Grant value: £183 238.
• Recipient: G. McHale & M.I. Newton; Grant title: Voltage switchable
superhydrophobicity; Sponsor: EPSRC GR/S34168/01; Award period dates:
2004-2007; Grant value: £195,141.
• Recipient: F.B. Pyatt, G. McHale & M.I. Newton; Grant title:
Extreme soil water repellency; Sponsor: EPSRC EP/C509161/1; Award period
dates: 2004-2005; Grant value: £63,009.
• Recipient: G. McHale, M.I. Newton & C.C. Perry; Grant title: Drag
reduction and slip at solid-liquid interfaces; Sponsor: EPSRC
EP/D500826/1; Award period dates: 2005-2009; Grant value: £205,498.
• Recipient: G. McHale, M.I. Newton, C.C. Perry & N.J. Shirtcliffe;
Grant title: Olympics Pilot Project — Enhancing Water Sports Performance ;
Sponsor: EPSRC-UK Sport EP/E043097/1; Award period dates: 2007-2008; Grant
• Recipient: G. McHale, M.I. Newton & C.V. Brown; Grant title:
Platform Grant — Exploiting the solid-liquid interface; Sponsor:
EP/E063489/1; Award period dates: 2007-2012; Grant value: £643,981.
• Recipient: G. McHale & M.I. Newton; Grant title: Engineering of
surfaces for drag reduction in water with validation using computational
and experimental methods; Sponsor: EPSRC EP/G057265/01; Award period
dates: 2009-2013; Grant value: £364,692.
• Recipient: G. McHale, M.I. Newton & N.J. Shirtcliffe; Grant title:
Particle-based superhydrophobic surfaces: Lab models-to-field sample
behaviour; Sponsor: EPSRC EP/H000704/1; Award period dates: 2009-2014;
Grant value: £324,170.
• Recipient: G. McHale, P. Breedon, P. Johnson, M.I. Newton, T. Dias, T.
Fisher, W.M. Cranton; Grant title: Smart Materials — Designing for
Functionality; Sponsor: EPSRC EP/I016414/1; Award period dates: 2010-2012;
Grant value: £202,311.
• Recipient: G. McHale (EP/K014803/1), C.V. Brown and M.I. Newton
(EP/K015192/1); Grant title: Dielectrowetting: Controlling Oleo- and
Hydrophilicity and Shaping Liquid Surfaces; Sponsor: EPSRC; Award period
dates: 2013-2016; Grant value: £280k/£79.5k; Project partners: Dolomite
Ltd, L-3 TRL Technology, Merck Speciality Chemicals Ltd
Details of the impact
The development of the Nature's Raincoats initiative was a natural
culmination of a growth in external interest of the research of the group.
During 2005-2007 the group received increasing numbers of enquiries from
companies and the media relating to its research. Some related to a Nature
Highlight/News which was heavily reported in the popular and trade press.
Some related to an invited report for the Analyst aimed at industry
practitioners, which contextualized our research in terms of existing
patents and future possibilities. Some related to a New Scientist report
"Repulsive vegetables". When the group published its research on
underwater breathing without a gill the media interest included
FoxNews.com, TechDigest and SoftPedia. This led to local newspaper and BBC
radio interviews and eventually a 15-minute programme on BBC Radio 4
In 2008, with the theoretical physics group of Professor Yeoman's at the
University of Oxford, we decided to create a Public Understanding exhibit
"Nature's Raincoats" at The Royal Society Summer Exhibition 2009. Ours was
one of 21 selected from 103 proposals on the basis of scientific quality
and novelty, and attractiveness in promoting Science to the general
public, post-16 students, policy makers, and the press.
We created a website www.naturesraincoats.com with sections targeting
general public understanding and companies wishing to understand more
about how to work with us. We linked this into the Nottingham Science City
initiative with the reporter Brady Haran who created www.test-tube.org.uk
with a "Meet Neil Shirtcliffe" video, a "Superhydrophobic video" and a
film about the Royal Society Exhibition. The exhibit was sponsored by
EPSRC, the Materials KTN and included a photographic competition. The
exhibition and web-site have been maintained by the group to create an
enduring "front door" into the group's research. The exhibition is a
series of hands-on exercises directly linked to our research (see www.naturesraincoats.com/Royal
1. Public understanding impacts through the Physical exhibition
The initial benefit of Nature's Raincoats was to the visitors to the
Royal Society Exhibition, typically children inspired to continue science
and engineering to a higher level. The exhibition had 5,522 visitors and
worldwide media coverage.
The exhibition was invited (and sponsored) to appear at Techfest (Mumbai,
India, in 2010 and 2012 www.techfest.org)
— the largest Science and technology exhibition in India with an estimated
85,000 visitors. The exhibition was also invited (sponsored by EPSRC
Public Understanding Programme) to appear In the Discovery Zone at the
2010 Times Cheltenham Science Festival which sold about 23,000 tickets and
was invited to appear at the National Big Bang Fair (www.thebigbangfair.co.uk)
in London 2013 with 65,000 visitors followed by BBC Summer of UK wildlife
event (Cardiff, June 2013) and the British Science Festival (Newcastle,
September 2013, www.britishscienceassociation.org/british-science-festival).
2. Public understanding impacts through the Website and the Media
A second benefit was the general public understanding from the linked
videos for the test-tube project e.g.  video explaining the basic
science has had 260,823 visitors (@25/09/13). www.naturesraincoats.com had
21,020 unique visitors from July 2009 to May 2013 from over 40 countries
with the largest being from the USA .
Media interest has also resulted in us providing a specially prepared
laboratory coat (2009) for Richard Hammond's use in the series Invisible
Worlds (BBC/Discovery Channel) and advice and guidance (2012) for the
development of a stunt for use in the BBC series Richard Hammond's
Miracles of Nature (Oxford Scientific Films) .
3. Commercial and Educational impacts
A third benefit was the raising of awareness of the commercial
possibilities of the research through trade reports, for example, Eureka
(a site for Engineering Design) "Nature shapes superior surfaces"
10/9/2009. More reports were made at the time, including for the Materials
KTN, and permissions were granted for research images to be reproduced in
an educational textbook.
Further benefits of the sustained website, YouTube videos and wider
publicity have been to companies wishing to assess application of
superhydrophobicity to their areas. Examples include: UK Sport, Water
sports performance, EPSRC invited Olympics pilot project (see section 2)
and separate project, 2008 . Rolls Royce Plc (Derby, U.K.), 2008,
leading to an in-house company programme and directly to the filing of two
patents (US2011147219 and US2011151186) . HumiSeal Europe Ltd.
(Winnersh, U.K.), 2010, funded applied research on product development
. FurTech Ltd. (Glynneath, U.K.), 2011, product development pilot study
In the US Troy Dassler, a teacher and outreach coordinator in Wisconsin,
developed educational activities for children having used Natures
Raincoats website and discussions with us resulting in an educational web
and with the work reported in an educational article "Recognizing
Excellence: From Macro to Micro to Nano" .
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Letter from Head of Research & Innovation, UK Sport, 40 Bernard
Street, London, WC1N 1ST UK Sport (3 Nov 2011).
- Letter from a specialist at Rolls Royce Plc Strategic Research Centre
(SRC), PO Box 31, Derby, DE24 8BJ (11 Nov 2011).
- Letter from a Researcher, Oxford Scientific Films, c/o Parthenon
Entertainment, 34 Whiteladies Road, Clifton, Bristol BS8 2LG (21 Mar
- Letter from FurTech Ltd., 40 Pontneathvaughan Road, Glynneath, W.
Glamorgan SA11 5NS (11 Nov 2011).
- Letter from the European Sales Manager, HumiSeal Europe Ltd, 505
Eskdale Road, Winnersh, Berkshire RG41 5TS (9 Nov 2011).
- Youtube videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaE9k-xUtrQ
- Nature's Raincoats website: www.naturesraincoats.com
and visitor statistics
- Recognizing Excellence: From Macro to Micro to Nano, T Dassler Science
and Children October 2011 http://learningcenter.nsta.org/product_detail.aspx?id=10.2505/4/sc11_049_02_69