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.
2. HOW IT WORKS
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.
3. BREAKING OUT
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.
4. LEARNING CURVE
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.
5. PLATFORM PITCH
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.
6. INDIA CONNECT
"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.