Why Our Oily Fingers Can Never Soil the iPhone's Pristine Screen

By Allison Bond | June 25, 2009 3:38 pm

iPhoneIf you’ve held the new iPhone 3GS in your sweaty palm, you might’ve marveled at the way its shiny touchscreen deflects fingerprints and smudges. For that feature, you can thank an organic polymer infused into the glass screen by way of an intermediate molecule. This polymeric coating is oleophobic…meaning the oil from your fingers or face is more apt to stick to itself and to your skin than to the iPhone’s screen.

Television host and science educator Bill Nye the Science Guy explained how it works via Gizmodo:

The Applers were able to do this by bonding this oleophobic polymer to glass. The polymer is an organic (from organisms) compound, carbon-based. The glass is nominally inorganic, silicon-based… solid rock. The trick is getting the one to stick to the other. Although it is nominally proprietary, this is probably done with a third molecule that sticks to silicon on one side and to carbon-based polymers on the other side. Chemical engineers get it to stay stuck by inducing compounds to diffuse or “inter-penetrate” into the polymer. The intermediate chemical is a “silane,” a molecule that has silicon and alkanes (chains of carbon atoms)….

The polymer that the 3GS iPhone screen is coated with doesn’t let the oil of your skin stick to it very much. So, you don’t leave fingerprints. The key is in the intermediate compounds, the silanes that hold the plastic to the glass.


With this information, maybe your iPhone can double as a conversation-starter. After all, organic chemistry can generate some pretty great reactions.

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Image: flickr / William Hook

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
  • steve

    I want this in my laptop! Does any current laptop has it? Is this coating dust proof too?

  • Anon

    After all, organic chemistry can generate some pretty great reactions.

    It certainly can!

  • david

    The people who fixed this were not chemical engineers – they were chemists. The intermediate layer is a clever bit of chemistry. Chemical engineers are the guys who would build the manufacturing plant to make the stuff.

  • Jim

    Better not slap a screen protector on it!

  • QUASAR

    ‘oleophobic’

    Afraid o oil! LOL

  • Quyen

    David, I’m sure the knowledge about silane is from Chemists. However, Chemical engineers are capable of coming up with solutions for problems.

    “Chemical engineers get it to stay stuck by inducing compounds to diffuse or “inter-penetrate” into the polymer”

    Chemists or chemical engineers could do this in a lab, engineers gonna have to deal with how to manufacture in mass production though. The problem isn’t knowing about the properties of the coating, it’s about getting it to work. I guess engineers are capable of finding solution to that.

  • greg

    But the iPhone absolutely has to have an anti glare film placed over it if you want to enjoy the video; and not look at your reflection. That would render the anti oil properties worthless. ;-(
    I use a Power support anti glare. Apple needs to get rid of the glare as well.

  • anon

    “However, Chemical engineers are capable of coming up with solutions for problems.”

    “I guess engineers are capable of finding solution to that.”

    Only once the underlying chemistry has been discovered are the engineers able to exploit it. Unfortunately, it seems engineers can’t handle the discovery part =)

    So I guess the point I’m making is that y’all are both… –stuck– with each other.

  • Larry

    Steve posted that he wanted this on his laptop … I want it on my kid! How do I polymer infuse my kid?

  • Grown

    Still not worth the price tag, the AT&T required service plan, the Draconian DRM, or the Apple attitude, but the kids love their status symbols.

  • !!!!!!

    Here, Here Grown. It is amazing how many people are willing to shell out so much money for an item that isn’t even worth it. Apple have done a genius job in marketing this piece of crap.

  • Grey

    By definition chemical engineers are all chemists.

    A chemist is simply a scientist specialized in chemistry.

    A chemical engineer specializes in the large scale production of products created through chemistry.

    A chemical engineer does not build the building and plants for manufacturing, though the chemical engineering companies do have such built.

  • 8core

    Grown & !!!!! The iPhone isn’t expensive. Paid more for all my older smartphones and none of them were worth it. The iPhone is worth every penny. It’s the best device/product I have ever used.

  • Pingback: La pantalla Oleofobica del iPhone 3GS()

  • http://physicshandbook.com/ Rony Lee

    Good article about iPhone.

  • Pingback: World’s Hardiest Cell Phone Survives Water Blasts, Elephant Trampling | Discoblog | Discover Magazine()

  • Tom

    “The polymer is an organic (from organisms) compound”… Organic means containing carbon, like all polymers?

  • Anonymous

    So the Cult of Steve Jobs ran out of BS for the iPhone about how “revolutionary” it is (It isn’t. None of its features were even innovative.) and are now spouting BS about the iPhone’s screen?

  • Pingback: New “Live Happy” iPhone App Claims to Bring iHappiness | Discoblog | Discover Magazine()

  • Iphone seller

    Uhh, thats not true. to sell these, I have to demo it to customers. as soon as I touches the damn thing, it was smudged. same for the scrolling. ya it wipes off, but so does the plasma screen in my sony ericsson.

  • chemy999

    @tom half right, organic does mean containing carbon, but not all polymers are organic, most are organic because not very many elements have carbon’s bonding capabilities, but (SN)x for example is a completely inorganic polymer (and it’s also conductive!)

    I just realized how old this is, the most recent comment is from early 2010

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