"Biomaterials" are non-living substances selected to have predictable interactions with contacting biological phases, in applications ranging from medical/dental implants to food processing to control of biofouling in the sea. More than 30 years of empirical observations of the surface behaviours of various materials in biological settings, when correlated with the contact-angle-determined Critical Surface Tensions (CST) for these same materials, support the definition of the "theta surface". The "theta surface" is that characteristic expression of outermost atomic features least retentive of depositing proteins, and identified by the bioengineering criterion of having measured CST between 20 and 30 mN/m. Biomaterials applications requiring strong bioadhesion must avoid this range, while those requiring easy release of accumulating biomass should have "theta surface" qualities. Selection of blood-compatible materials is a main example. It is forecast that future biomaterials will be safely and effectively translated directly to clinical use, without requiring animal testing, based on laboratory data for CST, protein denaturation, and cell spreading alone.