Biomimicry: Chemical-Free Water-Blocking Material Inspired by Spider Hair

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Photo by Anderson Mancini via Flickr CC

Looking veeeery closely at spider hairs, scientists at the University of Florida have figured a way to mimic the varying lengths of spider body hair in order to create a flat, water-blocking and self-cleaning surface that could be ideal for anything from food packaging to solar cells to windows. MSNBC reports that unlike water repellent surfaces we've seen so far, this one doesn't require the use of chemicals. The surface uses only the mimicked patterns of a spider's body hair to repel water.

It's been long known that spiders use their water-repelling hairs to stay dry or avoid drowning. Water spiders use their hairs to capture air bubbles and tote them underwater to breathe. But it was only five years ago that [Wolfgang Sigmund, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Florida] began experimenting with microscopic fibers, turning to spiders for inspiration.
"Most people that publish in this field always go for these perfect structures, and we are the first to show that the bad ones are the better ones," Sigmund said.

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While the idea of self-cleaning solar cells comes immediately to mind, there are a wide range of potential uses. An example pointed out in the article is that boat designers might someday coat hulls with it, making boats faster and more efficient.