PARMA, Italy—A team of engineers here have harnessed new photonics technology to develop the world’s first fluid-repellent, antibacterial, metal surface.

The High Throughput Laser Texturing of Self-Cleaning and Antibacterial Surfaces (TresClean) project is based on defense mechanisms found in plants such as the lotus leaf. It will enable the production of self-cleaning sheet metal that could be used for a variety of applications, such as household appliances.

TresClean engineers use high-power laser cutting devices to create microscopic spikes and ridges in sheet metal, causing liquids to bounce off the rough micro-topography that mimics the surface of the lotus leaf.

“This roughened surface creates miniature pockets of air that minimizes the contact area between the surface and a liquid, almost like standing on a bed of needles,” says Luca Romoli, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Parma who is coordinating the TresClean project.

“Without the need for cleaning products or chemicals, their jagged, rough surfaces enable water to stay as spherical droplets by preventing spreading,” explains Romoli. “Bacteria do not get a chance to stick because the contact with the metal surface and the liquid is reduced by more than 80 percent.