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A slippery surface coating to help that ketchup slide out
Virat Markandeya        Print Edition: July 20, 2014
LiquiGlide: A coating to help that ketchup slide out

Kripa Varanasi, Chief Science Advisor/LiquiGlide
It almost feels like a responsibility to take this to India: Kripa Varanasi, Chief Science Advisor/LiquiGlide
Thumping the back of a ketchup bottle unceremoniously to get its contents out is an experience most of us are familiar with. Dave Smith, a former MIT graduate student, along with his then professor, Kripa Varanasi, came up with a neat solution: a surface coating that can be applied to the inside of the bottle to make the inside slippery, so the ketchup slides out easily. Called LiquiGlide, the product has been tried with other consumer goods too, such as toothpaste and lotions. The first products with the coating are expected next year.

Varanasi's lab at MIT was interested in improving efficiencies in interfacial phenomena - hardcore industrial engineering problems involving the surfaces of oil pipelines and power turbines. Over 80 per cent of our electricity, for example, comes from a steam cycle, and Varanasi was interested in questions such as how moisture sticks to blades, or water condenses, or how hydrates block up pipelines. Then someone asked the lab if it could make bottles that prevented leaching. That got the lab thinking about bottles. Finally, says Varanasi, his wife, who was feeding his one-and-a-half-year-old son honey, told him that since you work on surfaces, why not find a fix to this problem of coagulation of honey? Varanasi's student Smith, who is now the LiquiGlide CEO, used the work they had already done to come up with a solution in two days.

Other non-stick coatings, such as Teflon, are solids. The coating LiquiGlide uses, in a way, is both a solid and a liquid. There is a liquid that falls into the interstices of a porous solid. This is called a liquid impregnated surface and is held in place by capillary and other molecular forces. The result is as slick as a liquid but has the rigidity of a solid. The liquid used can be edibles such as vegetable oil and fats. The viscosity of the liquid can be changed, so the slipperiness can be tuned too.

The group pitched it at the $100K contest at MIT in March 2012. A ketchup video was made for the finals in May, and it went viral. The group did not go for VC funding, but the market wanted it. The group went from published paper to expected launch in about four years, a short, sharp cycle. However, the work was based on IP dating years back.

To move from the lab to an assembly line production, the group had to come up with a method that could easily apply the coatings in a factory rather than the method it had used in a cleanroom initially. The group did: both layers are sprayed and settle in seconds.


It can change the surface properties of solids to make it repel a liquid. This means that it can be used to improve efficiencies in things such as pipelines by slowing corrosion as well as in medical equipment, or even in making surface of an iPhone more water repellent.


"We are really hoping to get into the Indian market," says Varanasi, adding that it feels like a responsibility to take this to India in order to prevent food wastage. Once we get a few things out, there will be more excitement, he adds.

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