Over 2,000 years ago, the Romans invented what we now know today as cement-based concrete. It is one of the world’s most crucial building materials, and is also the most prone to environmental risks.

With extensive exposure to air, rain and pollution, concrete structures tend to get dirty, discolored, and fractured. But scientists have found the future cement to help keep buildings safe.Xu Xin, a professor at the University of Science and Technology of China, said, the material’s surface can absorb water. When people reduce cement’s ability to retain water, it becomes hydrophobic.

Hydrophobic literally means “fear of water.” Such surfaces exist in nature, from lotus leaves to insect wings. Their special structure and chemical make-up allow them to repel not only water, but also dust and pollutants.Scientists have been able to emulate these super-hydrophobic surfaces in the lab, for application to daily items like clothes and shoes.

At the core of these products is a highly water-repellent silicone polymer, known as PDMS.