Termite wings may pave way for hydrophobic materials

Monday, 8 February 2010 - 2:37pm IST | Place: Melbourne | Agency: ANI
Studies showed that micrasters stop very small dew drops from sticking to the wing surface, while the hairs stop larger rain drops.

The unique water-repelling ability of termites might help scientists from James Cook University in Townsville in developing new hydrophobic materials.

According to Nanoscience researcher Dr Gregory Watson, water droplets just spontaneously roll off the termite wings.

"It's advantageous to fly in the rain because you've got a mobile canvas of droplets so it's harder for predators to see you," ABC Science quoted Watson as saying.

The research team discovered an ingenious two-tiered "anti-wetting" system on termite wings.

The wing surface is covered in micro-scale hydrophobic hairs and nano-scale star-shaped structures called "micrasters".

Further studies showed that micrasters stop very small dew drops from sticking to the wing surface, while the hairs stop larger rain drops.

Watson said the hairs have a groove down their length, which is essential for repelling water.

When the team filled up the groove with hydrophobic material, water was no longer repelled.

Watson said the groove is probably holding trapped air, which aids in repelling water from the surface.

"It also minimises adhesion too, because you have less contacting surface with the actual water droplet," he added.

The researchers are now trying to imitate the termite wing surface

Watson and colleagues are now in the process of trying to replicate the termite wing surface, which might help in designing self-cleaning surfaces like tiles and windows, as well as low-drag surfaces for ship hulls.

The findings appear in the journal ACSNano.




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