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From Butterfly Wings to Pipelines and Medical Equipment

Enough with your politics! It's science time!

It boggles my mind how a scientist interested in things like reducing drag and self-cleaning surfaces can look at a butterfly or rice leaves and go "Hey, mebbe this can give me some ideas".

Common to Central and South America, the Blue Morpho is an iconic butterfly, prized for its brilliant blue color and iridescence. Beyond its beauty, it has the ability to cast off dirt and water with a flutter of its wings.
The electron microscope revealed that the Blue Morpho's wings aren't as smooth as they look to the naked eye. Instead, the surface texture resembles a clapboard roof with rows of overlapping shingles radiating out from the butterfly's body, suggesting that water and dirt roll off the wings "like water off a roof," Bhushan said. The rice leaves provided a more surreal landscape under the microscope, with rows of micrometer- (millionths of a meter) sized grooves, each covered with even smaller, nanometer- (billionths of a meter) sized bumps - all angled to direct raindrops to the stem and down to the base of the plant. The leaf also had a slippery waxy coating, which keeps the water droplets flowing along.
After studying all the textures close up, the researchers made molds of them in silicone and cast plastic replicas.
Bushan thinks that the rice leaf texture might be especially suited to helping fluid move more efficiently through pipes, such as channels in micro-devices or oil pipelines. As to the Blue Morpho's beautiful wings, their ability to keep the butterfly clean and dry suggests to him that the clapboard roof texture might suit medical equipment, where it could prevent the growth of bacteria.

A self-cleaning (or easier to clean) surface would be good anywhere you needed to maintain a sterile environment. It could be translated to work surfaces in addition to equipment. Using this technology in water pipelines in addition to oil pipelines, or really any application involving fluids where you lose pressure as it's flowing, could reduce costs. You'd need to do less to keep that fluid moving.

And what about things we'd like to be aerodynamic? Could it work for planes and cars? A self-cleaning car would be fantastic in the winter when our cars usually gets a nice salty coating.

What i'm still curious about is how shark's maintain a mucous layer on their skin when they're surrounded by water. How does it not wash off immediately?

By min | November 9, 2012, 11:38 AM | Science