How the Namib Desert beetle could help stop freezing on planes
A desert beetle taught scientists how to avoid freezing on airplanes, streamers, and windshields.
A team of scientists from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) have discovered a method of controlling and preventing freezing, according to a study published in Scientific Reports, an online journal managed by Nature. The method works around the combination of a specific pattern overlaid on a water resistant surface. The team believes that by stepping up testing, the method would be suitable for use on larger commercial objects, such as airplanes.
The inspiration for the effective method of preventing frost came from an insect that lives in an environment where frost is rarely a problem. Scientists based their method on the beetle shell.
The lessons learned from the Namib Desert beetle are the latest in a trend of nature-inspired scientific breakthroughs.
“I appreciate the irony of how an insect that lives in a hot, dry desert inspired us to make a discovery about the frost,” said Jonathan Boreyko, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics at Virginia Tech College. of Engineering, in the press. release for study. “The main takeaway from the Desert Beetle is that we can control where the dewdrops grow.”
The Namib Desert beetle lives in the deserts of southwestern Africa, where water is scarce. The beetle is able to collect water suspended in the air thanks to unique properties on its shell. Specialized bumps working in tandem with the smooth surface of the shell allow water droplets to form and travel to the beetle’s mouth, according to Modern Reader.
Scientists observed the unique patterns of the bumps on the beetle’s shell and reproduced them on a silicon wafer, a process known as photolithography. The chemical pattern attracts water droplets, while the surface of the material repels them. The result keeps the water droplets separate and running, which slows or completely prevents the growth of the gel.
Scientists noted their success in the introduction to their study:
Here, we demonstrate that chemical models can be used to adjust the spatial distribution of supercooled condensation and then control the geometry and growth rate of frost between droplets…. For the first time, the bridging of ice between droplets could be completely stopped by using sufficiently sparse hydrophilic patterns and quickly triggering a freeze event near the patterned condensation.
According to the press release, scientists have successfully tested the method on an area of about one centimeter, but say it can be extended to commercial use.
“Keeping things dry requires huge energy expenditure,” C. Patrick Collier, co-author of the study, said in the press release. “This is why we are paying more attention to ways of controlling condensation and freezing in water. This could lead to huge savings. “
This is not the first time that the Namib Desert beetle has offered a new solution to a human problem. In 2012, an American start-up based its concept of a self-filling water bottle on the natural ability of the beetle to distill water from the air. Similar “nature-inspired” solutions can be seen in everyday and future technology.
In 2009, Qualcomm MEMS Technologies created the first full-color e-reader display based on technology inspired by butterfly wings, according to Livescience. In 2011, a team of researchers in Japan created a film to help solar panels capture more energy from the sun, inspired by moth eyes. Recently, in 2015, a group of scientists created a new sensor for small drones that was discovered by studying the eyes of insects.
The growing trend for nature-inspired solutions has led to the opening of organizations like the Center for Bioinspiration in California and the Biomimicry Institute in Montana, among others.