The Hydrophobic Nanotiles project uses drops of water to form pixilated images or texts upon the surfaces of tiles and walkways. Specific zones of the surface are treated with a hydrophobic nanocoating that repels water molecules and forces them to form spherical pixels. The specific location and size of each water pixel is managed by the coating. The remainder of the surface is treated with a hydrophilic treatment that does not allow the water to bead.
When this project was first exhibited at 100% Design in London (September 2004), such surface coatings would have been difficult to achieve, even though hydrophobic surfaces are readily found in nature; for example, they can be observed on the wings on butterflies. However, recent advancements in hydrophobic and hydrophilic technologies are opening up new opportunities for responsive surfaces. These innovative tiles demonstrate how design can lead nanoscience toward new applications.