Harvard-created coating keeps bacterial biofilms from forming on surfaces


August 1, 2012

An ultra-slippery surface treatment known as SLIPS has been shown to keep bacterial biofilms from forming on treated materials

An ultra-slippery surface treatment known as SLIPS has been shown to keep bacterial biofilms from forming on treated materials

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Last June, scientists from Harvard University announced the development of their new SLIPS (Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces) technology. When used to coat surfaces, it is highly effective at keeping ice, frost, or just about any type of liquid from accumulating on them. Now, it turns out that SLIPS is also very good at keeping something else from getting a toehold – biofilms.

A biofilm is a slimy layer of organic material, that is formed by bacteria on a wide variety of solid surfaces. Once a biofilm is established, it serves as a habitat for those bacteria – or other microorganisms – allowing them to flourish.

Among other things, biofilms can cause water contamination when they form on the inside of pipes, they let troublesome creatures such as barnacles make themselves at home on ships’ hulls, and they can become the source of infections when they form on medical equipment.

SLIPS apparently fools the initial biofilm-forming bacteria into thinking that stable, solid surfaces are actually liquid, thus keeping them from sticking around. This is due to the fact that SLIPS incorporates nanostructures that wick a chemically-inert, high-density liquid up to its surface. The liquid is immobilized there, creating an ultra-slippery, non-toxic coating that repels ... well, just about anything.

The SLIPS technology for preventing biofilm formation as compared to a Teflon coated surface

In lab tests, it was found that when SLIPS was added to surfaces, it decreased disease-causing Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus aureus bacterial biofilms by 96 to 99 percent over seven days. Any biofilms that did form slipped off easily when subjected to a mild liquid flow. Additionally, SLIPS was found to work in this fashion even when subjected to ultraviolet light, high pH levels, and high salinity.

It is now hoped that the technology can find use in medical, industrial, and consumer applications.

A paper on the research was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: Harvard University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Is it non toxic enough to be usable to protect teeth? See also


I wonder whether it could also be used in agriculture to prevent creepy crawlies like slugs and snails chomping on leaves of vegetables such as potatoes? A single sided tape with adhesive on one side and SLIPS on the other placed onto something like a collar of split PVC pipe (say with velcro closures - or even a couple of humble rubber bands with paper clip hooks) could then be placed around individual plants until the snail season had passed or the vegetables were harvested. The collars could then be unfastened, removed and stored until next season. It may not be possible for something like broad acre commercial agriculture, but for subsistence farming it might be the difference between a successful small crop and starvation, without the use of pesticides that are both expensive and environmentally damaging.


Sounds like it could be used to combat invasive species like the zebra mussel . . . kinda neat! :D


Would it stop those little quagga and zebra mussels from sticking to the insides of water pipes, culverts, irrigation gratings, boats and boat engine cooling systems etc?

The people who manage dams would love this stuff to keep the mussels from clogging the generator bearing cooling pipes.

Gregg Eshelman

Can i use it on my windscreen? Will it put an end to the wiper blade?


Assuming they don't charge too much for licensing the stuff, it could also be used on small planes to prevent wing icing.

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