RESEARCHERS from Oxford have made significant progress towards a world with splash-free urinals.

Scientists at the University of Oxford have published a paper on splash-avoidance, which assesses methods of preventing splashback of harmful fluids in settings ranging from hospitals to kitchens – and maybe even toilets.

The research shows that coating a surface in a gel or rubber could provide a very simple solution to the issue of splash back.

When a drop of liquid hits a surface at a sufficiently high speed, it splashes. When working with harmful or unhygienic fluids, splashback can prove a dangerous problem.

Lead researcher Professor Alfonso Castrejón-Pita, Royal Society University Research Fellow in Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science, said: “We believe soft surfaces with the correct stiffness could be used in a number of situations in which ‘dangerous’ or ‘nasty’ fluids are used.

“It's surprisingly easy to for droplets to turn into aerosols or sprays when they splash. So if you’re working with dangerous chemicals or biomaterials, it would be helpful to know that you won’t be generating sprays or aerosols if some drops fall, exposing you to diseases or harmful materials.

“This is also the case with the use of instrument trays during surgery – this technique could prevent the splashing of bodily fluids.

“As for hygiene, in the UK there is a big campaign to stop people from washing raw chicken before cooking because of splashing. A surface capable of stopping accidentally spilled drops of raw chicken fluids may be useful. And the development of a splash-free urinal would also be welcome.”

There has been little work carried out into splash avoidance. It has been demonstrated that droplets in a vacuum don’t splash, and droplets hitting a thin, elastic membrane are much less likely to splash.

No one as yet has looked at how simple coatings could provide all-round splash protection.

Professor Castréjon-Pita added: “There’s certainly more work to be done in this area. The softer you make a material, the stickier and weaker it often becomes – two things which aren’t ideal for making useful, long-term coatings.

“The main challenge of this work is how to overcome that. Luckily, recent work has started to develop new materials that can be soft, strong and non-sticky – like tough hydrogels – so there are certainly a lot of approaches to be explored.”