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3 TECHNOLOGIES INSPIRED BY NATURE

 

The works of Van Gogh and Tchaikovsky are proof that art and music are often inspired by nature. But did you know that both science and technology draw inspiration from, and are sometimes based upon nature as well?

1. Lotus Leaves and Self Cleaning

Have you ever been mesmerised by raindrops bouncing off lotus leaves? Ever wondered why these water droplets roll trippingly off its leaves rather than stick to the surface? Well, here’s why: lotus leaves are hydrophobic—they literally have a phobia of water.

In simple terms, they are water-repellent, which allows water droplets that fall on them to roll off, carrying impurities along. This lends lotus leaves the unique ability to self-clean! 

How so? The surface area that comes into contact with the water molecules is very small! The smaller the contact surface area, the less able water is to stick to the surface.

 

This understanding led A*STAR researchers to invent nano-imprinted surfaces that are water-repellent. This isn’t “just another waterproof technology”—it has applications that might be very useful in dusty and polluted environments!

Just think of how useful it would be to have ‘self-cleaning’ windows that remove ash and smog stains, particularly during the haze period in Singapore, or the smog season in Beijing!  This is especially when cars and building windows tend to be coated with soot and grime. Thanks to this lotus leaf-inspired water-repellent technology, our lives can now be made easier by installing surfaces that can clean themselves without us having to lift a finger!

 

2. Rose Petals and Water Retention

Photography of flora and fauna often composes beautiful shots of roses delicately showered with dewdrops glistening in the sun.  While these shots admittedly contain an element of photography magic, their brilliance is also due in part to the innate ability of roses to retain water so that they appear healthy and plump with moisture!

Unlike the water-repellent lotus leaves, rose petals are able to retain water droplets on their surfaces, thereby accomplishing that picture-perfect, fresh and dew-kissed appearance! So how exactly do they do that?

Remember how lotus leaves with smaller contact surface areas achieve less ‘stickiness’? The surfaces of roses are the opposite, so water just ‘glues’ itself onto the petal surfaces!

The surfaces of rose petals are made up of many closely packed tiny structures that are spaced but a few micrometers apart. This composition affects the surface tension of water droplets that come into contact with the surfaces of rose petals, causing them to adhere closely to the petals.

 

Taking a leaf from the rose petals’ ability to retain water droplets on their surfaces, A*STAR researchers mass produced similar surfaces with water-retention capabilities. This was achieved through a process called ‘nanoimprint lithography’, which is basically printing in high detail.

Now why would we need these fancy surfaces, you ask? Well if you hate steamed food that turns mushy from condensed water droplets falling on it, you are definitely going to love the steamers with surfaces built to retain those water droplets!

 

3. Not blur like "Sotong"

Are battered calamari rings or sambal sotong the first things that come to your mind when you think of squid? Well, apart from pleasing our palates, the humble squid has also inspired A*STAR researchers to develop super-strong biomaterials for various uses!

If you have ever felt the force exerted by the suction cups of a squid’s tentacles on your skin, you would realise just how strong and tenacious they are. The ‘teeth’ found on a squid’s sucker discs give them great strength and elasticity. Death grip aside, interestingly, the proteins that form these suckers are very similar to those found in the silk spun by spiders!

 

Both spider silk and squid suckers contain blocks of repeated patterns of amino acids that hold on to each other with strong bonds when folded. And because these repeated patterns alternate, they interlock with each other, forming even more bonds! These bonds reinforce the tensile strength of the protein patterns, which are then better able to resist external forces. In fact, they are so strong that researchers are exploring ways to use them in food and medicine packaging, artificial ligaments, and even bulletproof vests!

Taking a leaf out of nature's book, our scientists have developed solutions that seek to mimic nature's unique innovations. Can you think of any more technologies inspired by nature?

Share them with us at A-STAR_Corp_Comms@a-star.edu.sg