A team of scientists with the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) found that the Namib Desert beetle could help control and prevent frost on airplanes, windshields, and coils, a new study published in the online journal Scientific Reports suggests.
The new method – which was based off the shell of a desert beetle – consists of a specific pattern that is overlaid on top of a water-resistant surface, the scientists said. According to the team, the method could become useful for larger objects, such as airplanes.
Jonathan Boreyko, an assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, said that this beetle that lives in a dry, hot environment actually helped them discover things about frost, and to better understand how to control where dew drops form.
The Namib Desert beetle is an insect native to southwest Africa. Using its one-of-a-kind properties on its shell, the beetle manages to collect airborne water in an environment where water is scarce. Specialized bumps on its back enable water droplets to form and to then get into the beetle’s mouth.
The team of scientists recreated the bump patterns on the beetle’s back, onto a silicon wafer. It is a process called photolithography (optical lithography or UV lithography). How it works is that the pattern attracts water droplets, but, at the same time, the surface of the material repels the water. This slows or fully prevents frost from forming, the scientists said.
According to the Virginia Tech team, the method has so far only been tested on a one-centimetre surface. However, scientists believe that it could be scaled up for commercial use.
Patrick Collier, a co-author of the study and a research scientist at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), said that this new method of preventing water condensation and freezing may also result in huge cost savings.
In 2012, another company analysed the Namib Desert beetle to figure out how the insect managed to distill water from the air. The company then developed a concept for a self-filing water bottle.
Other everyday technologies have also been inspired by nature. For instance, in 2009 Qualcomm MEMS Technologies based their technology off butterfly wings – they developed the very first full-colour e-reader screen. Similarly, in 2015, a team of researchers studied insect eyes and then designed and built a new sensor for small drones.
Image Source: upload. wikimedia. org
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