January 2, 2014
Researchers at Harvard University have mimicked the inner skin of a pitcher plant to create a frictionless transparent coating that could be applied to almost any size of object.
The carnivorous pitcher plant — or Nepenthes — has a super-smooth interior that locks in a lubricant yet moisture-resistant layer onto its inner skin which prevents prey such as insects escaping.
In the latest "science mirrors nature" development the Harvard team produced a multi-stage coating process that involves attaching a thin, but rough layer of porous silica particles which are used to lock-in a similar lubricating layer onto the surface to be protected.
According to the researchers applications could include acting as an anti-graffiti coating on walls or on medical implants to aid blood flow.
The process reached the finals of the Institution of Chemical Engineers Awards (IChemE) in the United Kingdom.
IChemE chief executive David Brown said the Harvard development could circumvent the limitations of some existing coatings such as contamination, degradation, lack of self-healing capabilities and damage tolerance.
"By mimicking the pitcher plants skin structure, Harvard University's new coating self-heals almost instantly, even if scraped with a knife or blade.
"It is capable of operating in extreme temperatures and high pressure, and can be applied to surfaces ranging from metals and semiconductors, to paper and cotton fabric."
Brown hailed what he called "a very clever solution" by the team at Harvard University.
It was "another excellent example of how chemical engineering is being used to improve the features and performance of products we need and rely upon every day", he added.