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Durham University

Research & business

How a tiny bug inspires surfaces that don’t get wet

(5 July 2019)

The Springtail can repel any liquid better than most natural and synthetic surfaces.

A tiny bug is the inspiration for research that could one day provide clean water or help ships sail more efficiently.

Springtails are miniscule creatures that measure about six millimetres in size and live in extremely wet conditions.

In order to breathe through their skin they have developed highly detailed mushroom shaped patterns on the surface of their bodies.

Repellent surfaces

This helps the Springtail to repel any liquid – much better than most natural and synthetic surfaces can do.

Now Physics researchers at Durham University, in partnership with scientists at Procter and Gamble, are using this design from nature to help manufacturers create repellent surfaces.

They have developed a powerful computer model that simulates how liquids – like water, oil and food - behave on different surfaces based upon the Springtail’s skin.

The aim of the research is to find the best design to suit the product so it can repel liquids most effectively.

Wide-ranging applications

Using the model our researchers devised an ideal water filter design that can remove contamination to provide a sustainable water source.

They also investigated the best surface for moving tiny droplets to create a reaction in a process called digital microfluidics – for example, used to extract DNA from blood.

Other potential applications could include designing coatings for ships’ hulls so they can glide through water more easily and developing screens for tablets and mobile phones that stay fingerprint free when swiped.

Find out more

Read the research paper in Science Advances.

The research is led by our Department of Physics working with Procter & Gamble.

The lead researchers are PhD student Jack Panter and Associate Professor Halim Kusumaatmaja. Dr Kusumaatmaja is a member of Durham’s Biophysical Sciences Institute and Centre for Soft Matter.

Learn more about undergraduate and postgraduate study in Physics.

Process Industries and Surface Science at Durham.

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