News Feature | August 25, 2014

Beetles Inspire Conservation Technology

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

beetlereg

Beetles are the inspiration for research funded by the National Science Foundation seeking more efficient ways to trap and use water.

This line of research cribs the anatomy of the Stenocara beetle. The beetle collects water on its bumpy back surface. The research could be an important avenue for the future of conservation. 

"Power plant condensers with durable hydrophobic or superhydrophobic coatings could be more efficient. And with water and energy shortages looming, partnerships…that help to transfer this breakthrough from the lab to the outside world are increasingly valuable," the NSF reported.

Products grounded in beetle-inspired structures are already on the market. 

"Water-repellant shoes, shirts, iPhones," the NSF noted. "These materials have micro or nano-sized pillars, poles or other structures that alter the angles at which water droplets contact their surface. These contact angles determine whether a water droplet beads up like a teeny crystal ball or relaxes a bit and rests on the surface like a spilled milkshake."

Now, in a breakthrough, scientists can use these surfaces to direct how the water moves.

"In a feat of biomimicry, engineers have created superhydrophobic and superhydrophilic surfaces capable of trapping, directing and repulsing water. The implications for medicine, energy and environmental resourcefulness are endless," Tech Times reported

This line of research places a big emphasis on understanding condensation. 

"When water vapor condenses to a liquid, it typically forms a film. That film is a barrier between the vapor and the surface, making it more difficult for other droplets to form. If that film can be prevented by whisking away droplets immediately after they condense--say, with a superhydrophobic surface--the rate of condensation increases," the report said. 

NBD Nanotechnologies, a Boston-based company supported by NSF funding, is trying to make the technology more durable so it is adequate for industrial use and can be commercialized. 

"NBD is able to produce novel surface structures and wettability patterns that promote drop-wise condensation," the company explains, noting that "drop-wise condensation is theoretically [10 times] more efficient that regular film-wise condensation."

Image credit: "Stenocara dentata," liesvanrompaey © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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