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Nature-Inspired Engineering

Our team is passionate about nature-inspired engineering. We especially love looking at plants and insects under a microscope, and understanding how form is coupled with function. For example, we often look at the micro/nano-structures on a plant and understand how that makes a natural material highly water repellent. We also love making useful things. We’ll observe an interesting surface property in nature, understand the governing physics, and apply what we learn to make advanced materials. Before our company was formed our founding team worked together in an academic setting, conducting research in nature-inspired engineering as PhD students and faculty.

Passion for using technology for good

Our founding team has long had a passion for addressing global challenges facing humanity. One of our ultimate goals is to transform technology with great potential into technology with great impact. A few years ago, one of our co-founders, Tak-Sing Wong, was approached by a group working under the Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge looking for a solution to human waste residue in low-water toilet systems. We found that most hydrophobic and superhydrophobic coatings are excellent at repelling liquid, but fall short in their ability to repel sludge-like material. So we set out to make coatings specifically to repel human waste. The results of this work has been recently published in Nature Sustainability. We quickly learned that “sticky problems” are not unique to sanitation. From automotive application to medical, surfaces get dirty, so they need to be cleaned or replaced. Our aim is to make surfaces that keep themselves clean.

Our ultimate goal is to use what we have -- our skills, our technology -- to make the world a better place. The concrete ways we’d like to “make the world a better place” is to help address the Global Grand Challenges [1] laid out by the National Academy of Engineering.

[1] http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/

Our Technology

Our coatings stand out in their ease of application and in sludge repellency, but are also highly effective at repelling water and other substances as well, as documented in our latest publication in Nature Sustainability [1]. Founded in May 2018, spotLESS Materials is now aiming to address sticky problems common across various industries by developing and commercializing their liquid-, sludge-, and bacteria-repellent bio-inspired self-healing surface coating. This specific coating, referred to as a liquid-entrenched smooth surface (LESS), can address commercial needs related to fouling, icing, and self-cleaning. spotLESS Materials aims to establish itself as a leader and a collaborative development partner with a long term plan of addressing "sticky problems"' of diverse industries. spotLESS Materials has already received a SBIR grant from the US National Science Foundation for sanitation applications, and a number of other testing and contracted research opportunities. 

[1] Wang, J., Wang, L., Sun, N. et al. Viscoelastic solid-repellent coatings for extreme water saving and global sanitation. Nat Sustain 2, 1097–1105 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0421-0

World Toilet Day

World Toilet Day was established by the United Nations as a day of observance to spread awareness of the global sanitation crisis to spark action to address the crisis.

The problem:
According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF [1]:

  • 4.2 billion people do not live with “safely managed sanitation,” defined by the Joint Monitoring Programme as “using an improved sanitation facility that is not shared with other households, and where excreta are disposed of in situ or transported and treated off-site.” [2]
  • 673 million people practise open defecation
  • 3 billion people lack basic hand-washing facilities

The effects of poor sanitation and what the world is doing about it:
The consequences of poor sanitation and hygiene span from illness to gender inequality, and can stunt economic growth [3]. To address this sanitation crisis, the United Nations has set Sustainable Development Goal 6, which is to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” [4]. The Gates Foundation has also made significant efforts to address this sanitation crisis by establishing the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge [5] -- Bill Gates even stood in front of a crowd with a jar of human waste at the Reinvent the Toilet Expo in Beijing to get the point across [6]!

What the spotLESS team is doing:
Our team members, affiliates, and collaborators developed a coating technology designed specifically to repel human waste in toilets. These were designed in an academic lab, and have since become the core technology behind spotLESS Materials. The sanitation crisis and water scarcity are coupled problems: it’s hard to flush waste away without water. We designed these coatings so that human waste does not stick to the surfaces, and any residue that does manage to stick can be washed away with 90% less water than an uncoated ceramic surface. These research efforts were recently released published in Nature Sustainability [7], a respected peer-reviewed scientific journal. Our hope is that these coatings can be used to help meet Sustainable Development Goal 6.

We also hope these coatings can be used in the developed world to reduce our water footprint and toll on the environment. Here are some ways you can do your part:

Spread the word about World Toilet Day: The more people that know about the global sanitation crisis, the more likely someone who can make a tangible difference will make a difference. Check out how you can spread the word with social media templates offered by the United Nations site dedicated to World Toilet Day: https://www.worldtoiletday.info/

Reduce your toilet’s water footprint: While we’re spreading awareness about the global sanitation crisis, we can also make a small difference in the sustainability of our own homes by reducing our water footprint. The toilet is the largest contributor to domestic wastewater generation (for indoor activities -- e.g., not including your pool if you have one). To reduce your tank toilet’s water footprint, you can offset the flush volume using just a few simple tools:

  • A bottle/jug (up to .5 gal) 
  • A few rocks/stand
  • Optional: spotLESS Materials Toilet Coating (to make streaks easier to clean with less water)

Fill the bottle with some rocks/sand, then fill the rest with water. Cap the bottle, and put it in your tank. Now each time you flush, it will be with less water. If streaks and stains or odors from stuck waste are a problem, consider our Toilet Coating from our Home Collection. These were designed to repel human waste.

Learn More about World Toilet Day:

Other Resources:

[1] https://www.un.org/en/events/toiletday/assets/pdf/WTD2019_factsheet_2019.pdf
[2] Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygeine (2017). World Health Organization, UNICEF, WHO/UNICEF JMP.
[3] https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/6.pdf
[4] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6
[5] https://www.gatesfoundation.org/what-we-do/global-growth-and-opportunity/water-sanitation-and-hygiene/reinvent-the-toilet-challenge-and-expo
[6] https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/11/09/666150842/why-did-bill-gates-give-a-talk-with-a-jar-of-human-poop-by-his-side
[7] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-019-0421-0

The Team

Birgitt Boschitsch
co-Founder and CEO
Tak-Sing Wong
co-Founder and CTO
Nan Sun
Senior Research Scientist
Sara Korsunsky
Product Engineer
Frank Constantine
Packaging Engineering Intern