Britain's multi-million pound paint industry is facing a dilemma over the environmental impact of its products.
Solvent-based paints that have proved popular because of their hardy qualities emit volatile organic compounds that pollute the atmosphere. Water-based substitutes are more environmentally-friendly but offer poor water resistance.
Chemists at the University of Southampton believe they may have found a solution to the problem through the development of new water-based coatings which mimic nature's method for creating durable surfaces.
A new research project funded by an industrial consortium is to investigate the use of water-soluble polymers that turn inside out as the paint film dries.
Two research groups in Southampton's department of chemistry, led by Martin Grossel and Paul Wyeth, will work on designing adhesive "tethers" that will make the paint water-resistant when it dries while remaining soluble when the paint is in the can.
The project, carried out in collaboration with the Paint Research Association, will have to tackle such complexities as the precise position of the molecular "hook" in the adhesive - an important consideration for the final colour of the film - as well as the level of adhesiveness, which will dictate the quality of the film.