Wednesday, 14 November 2012

How Butterfly Wings Can Inspire New High-Tech Surfaces

Alan McStravick for – Your Universe Online

Can technology benefit by going green? I’m not talking about retro-fitting buildings for solar power or setting up grey water collection systems. In the recent issue of the journal Soft Matter, a research team out of the Ohio State University is looking at organic materials to aid in the resurfacing of existing technologies and possibly for the manufacture of new products and materials.

The team, comprised primarily of engineers, is taking a detailed look at the structure of butterfly wings and rice leaves. What they found with regard to their microscopic texture could improve a variety of products.

The researchers contend that these items, and their structure specifically, enhance fluid flow and work to prevent surfaces from collecting dirt and dust. Their study, should the structure be able to be mimicked in high-tech surfaces, could be a substantial benefit to the manufacturers of air and watercraft, pipelines and medical equipment.

“Nature has evolved many surfaces that are self-cleaning or reduce drag,” said Bharat Bhushan, Ohio Eminent Scholar and Howard D. Winbigler Professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State. “Reduced drag is desirable for industry, whether you’re trying to move a few drops of blood through a nano-channel or millions of gallons of crude oil through a pipeline. And self-cleaning surfaces would be useful for medical equipment – catheters, or anything that might harbor bacteria.”

Bhushan, along with doctoral student Gregory Bixler, studied the wings of the Giant Blue Morpho butterfly (Morpho didius) and leaves of the rice plant Oriza sativa. After viewing these two items under an electron microscope and an optical profiler, they cast plastic replicas of both of the microscopic textures. Once completed, they compared their ability to repel dirt and water to replicas of fish scales, shark skin and plain flat surfaces.

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