Ohio has recently seen an exciting change thanks to their advanced nanotechnology and their array of beautiful South American butterflies. This may seem like a strange combination, but researchers have in actual fact been studying the butterflies wings – as well as rice leaves – and discovered many factors regarding their microscopic texture. You may ask how and why this affects you? Well, it is the texture of such beautiful wings as well as rice leaves that could go on to help advance a wide selection of products.
An example of the genius of this discovery is that researchers managed to wipe 85 percent of dust particles from a surface that mirrored the wing of a butterfly. This was a significant improvement when compared to that of a plain, flat surface where only a mere 70 per cent of dust could be wiped off. This might be due to the fact that a textured surface enhances the flow of fluid whilst preventing the likelihood of dirt building up, recently reported in journal ‘Soft Matter’ by Ohio State University.
These same fluid flow enhancing textures could be utilised in the development of high-tech surfaces such as those utilised for watercraft and aircraft or even items such as medical apparatus and pipelines. Howard D. Winbigler - Ohio State Professor and Mr Bharat Bhushan – Ohio Scholar stated that self-cleaning surfaces have frequently evolved from nature.”For anything that may harbor bacteria, self-cleaning surfaces would play a vital role and be especially helpful in the inclusion of medical equipment. Whilst the reduced drag is very desirable for industry, for the transportation of matter, no matter whether you want to transport crude oil through pipelines or blood through nano-channels.”
A optical profiler and electron microscope were utilised by student Gregory Bixler assisted by Bhushan to study the Blue Morpho butterfly’s wings – otherwise known as Morpho Didius – as well as leaves belonging to Oriza Sativa, the rice plant. By casting replicas constructed of plastic from each (microscopic) textures, they were able to compare each of their abilities to a) repel water and b) repel dirt.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Blue Morpho butterfly, it is an iconic creature, habitual to South and Central America and renowned for it’s beautiful shade of blue. Not only is the Blue Morpho prized for it’s lustrous tone, but also for it’s ability to shed any lingering water or dirt with a mere wave of its delicate wings. For a delicate butterfly trying to survive in the wild, remaining clean is of crucial importance as the addition of water or dirt on the butterfly’s precious wings can make it incredibly difficult for the creature to fly. Also, the sex of a butterfly is determined by the pattern and colour of the wings, so in order to attract the opposite sex, it is vital that the butterfly’s wings remain clean and bright for reproduction.
Results of the electron microscope concluded that the dainty wings belonging to that of the Blue Morpho are not as finely defined as they appear. In fact the wing’s surface closely resembles that of a cladded roof, indicating that dirt and water can simply roll off. Whilst the rice leaves were said to have grooves to transport raindrops to the leaf stem. The researchers then went on to study precisely how the wings of a butterfly and rice leaves could exhibit components of other different surfaces, such as the scales of a fish, the skin of a shark and also non-textured surfaces.
One of the tests involved lining pipes with various coated textures and then pushing water through them. From doing this it was discovered that the texture of the shark skin helped to lower the pressure of water by 29 per cent in comparison to a plain, flat surface, whilst the rice leaf lowered the pressure by 26 per cent and lastly, the butterfly wing reduced it by 15 per cent.
After the completion of a number of tests, Bulshan concluded that the texture of the rice leaf would be particularly suited in helping fluid to move more effectively through pipes, whilst the Morpho’s stunning wings texture would be suited to medical equipment for the ability to keep clean would assist in the prevention of bacteria growth.