DROPPING your phone down the toilet may never be a problem again.
Researchers have developed a new way of waterproofing electronic components that means they can be immersed in water for days without being damaged.
The technique coats components with a protective layer just a few atoms thick that is impervious to air or water.
They claim devices treated in this way can be left submerged in salt water for months without being harmed – conditions that would destroy normal electronics.
Professor Samuel Graham at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who has led the research, said the film was stable in warm damp conditions and a number of liquids.
He said: “By creating such barriers films, we are able to extend lifetime and reliability of electronic devices.”
Most electronic devices such as mobile phones have films that are strayed onto electronic components to protect them from water vapour in the air and make them splash resistant.
However, these can add bulk to components and tiny imperfections in the way these are created can allow water to get through, meaning they are not totally waterproof.
To protect devices such as mobile phones and cameras from water, a separate case needs to be used.
Professor Graham, who is presenting his findings to the American Vacuum Society’s International Symposium and Exhibition, has developed a technique known as atomic layer deposition to create better barriers against water.
By surrounding components with gaseous atoms from a metal like aluminium, they form a layer over the electronics which is then oxidised.
This oxide layer, which is only 10 nanometres thick – around 6,000 times thinner than the width of a human hair – is prevents water from getting to the sensitive electronics underneath.
In one recent study, Professor submerged electronic sensors in water for 10 days after coating them in the atomic film.
The coatings can also be transparent, meaning they can also be used in electronic displays like those found on smart phones.
It could mean that ordinary cameras and mobile phones can be used underwater without coming to any harm.
Professor Graham believes the new coatings could also be used to help protect implantable biomedical devices such as pace makers and underwater sensors.