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Lillian Steenblik Hwang – Blog & Journalism Portfolio

Pitcher plant inspires new repellent surface technology


Unsuspecting insects are lured to pitcher plants by implied promises of sweet nectar, and the suggestive red color of the plant. The wet leaves of the carnivorous pitcher plant are slick, slippery “Slip and Slides” that catch the insects and channel them into the cup of the plant. However, instead of joyfully sliding down a slippery sheet these doomed insects slide into the innards of the pitcher plant. They then suffer a death by slow digestion, immersed in digestive juices.

Scientists at Harvard were inspired by the slippery properties of the pitcher plant, and have recently made strides to improve current liquid repellent surfaces. Their research resulted in the development of a new material, described in the current issue of Nature.

The technology, dubbed SLIPS (Slipper Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces) creates a slippery surface by infusing a porous solid material with a lubricating fluid. The holes in the porous material are on the micro or nano-scale. SLIPS are a step up in current repellent surface technology, due to self-healing properties. When the solid component of the SLIPS material is dented or scratched, the lubricating liquid can fill in that space, re-creating a flawless frictionless surface. Another advantage over current material technologies is that the nearly frictionless properties can be maintained in extreme conditions, such as high pressures, humidity, and frigid temperatures. “Not only is our bio-inspired surface able to work in a variety of conditions, but it’s also simple and cheap to manufacture,” said study co-author Sung Hoon Kang in a statement.

Researchers are seeking a patent for their new technology, and hope it could be used for fuel and water-transport pipes and medical tubing where friction free surfaces are ideal for faster, more efficient transport. Other uses might include self-cleaning windows, surfaces capable of resisting bacteria, and anti-sticking surfaces that could repel fingerprints or graffiti.

Though promising, researchers continue to develop this technology. Currently the SLIPS material’s primary problem is durability, which is limited by how long the lubricant can stay in the pores of the material before leaking or evaporating away. Ultimately, further studies are necessary before this technology sees real world uses.

Materials science: Slippery when wetted
Michael Nosonovsky Nature, Volume: 477, p. 412–413,
Date published: (22 September 2011)
Bioinspired self-repairing slippery surfaces with pressure-stable omniphobicity

Bioinspired self-repairing slippery surfaces with pressure-stable omniphobicity
Tak-Sing Wong, Sung Hoon Kang, Sindy K. Y. Tang, Elizabeth J. Smythe, Benjamin D. Hatton, Alison Grinthal & Joanna Aizenberg
Nature, Volume: 477, p. 443–447, (22 September 2011)
Lillian Steenblik Hwang
Originally edited – 9/22/11
Written for class (Science Newswriting)

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