Nature has a habit of providing us with elegant solutions to some of our problems. Inspired by the eyes of the common green bottle fly, researchers from the University of Woolongong’s Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials and colleagues have developed a superhydrophobic material that they believe could have numerous applications in industry. The study has been published in Small.
Hydrophobic substances or materials are those that repel water. When water comes into contact with a hydrophobic surface it is more attracted to itself than the material and consequently forms little beads. Superhydrophobic surfaces are just extreme forms of these, and are very difficult to make wet. To be superhydrophobic, the material has to be very rough and have a low surface energy.
Superhydrophobic surfaces have a diverse range of applications in industry. They can be used in clothing and footwear such as boots and jackets to protect them and make them waterproof. They can be applied to underwater vessels such as submarines to reduce drag, or boats to prevent fouling and protect against the growth of marine organisms. They could also be used in electronics to prevent corrosion. The list goes on- they’re handy materials.
Last week we saw a report from Brigham Young University describing novel superhydrophobic surfaces that were produced by etching microscopic posts or ridges onto surfaces. This particular study, however, used a slightly different approach. The team examined the surface of the common green bottle fly’s eye through microscopy and found that it was coated with tiny hexagonal structures. Further investigation found that each unit was in fact covered with even smaller hexagons. When the team placed these flies in moist environments, they found that their eyes remained free from water.
The researchers then recreated these surfaces using zinc nanoparticles and when they put their material to the test they found that it was just as hydrophobic as the eyes. Although a similar approach has been adopted before, albeit using mosquito eyes for inspiration, the surface proved difficult to produce on a larger scale. The team hopes that they can use this new material on a wide range of surfaces and will carry out further tests to investigate whether it is suitable for certain industrial applications.