Biomimicry: Namib Beetle teaches Engineers New Tricks


If you lived where the rainfall was less than half an inch (12mm) for the whole year you’d either die, or get pretty smart about how to get a drink. The Namib Desert beetle is one such clever critter. Its shell has evolved microscopic hydrophillic (water-loving) bumps that attract fine water droplets in the fog that blows across the desert, but would not otherwise condense. The minute water drops collect more fog, growing like weeny snowballs until they are heavy enough to roll down the mounds into waxy, hydrophobic (water-repelling) channels. Whoosh! Into the beetle's thirsty mouth. Inspired by an article about this phenomena in Nature journal, engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have had a stab at some biomimicry to see if they could recreate the effect. A substrate with a teflon-like, superhydrophobic layer is combined with charged polymers and silica nanoparticles to create the opposing textured, absorbent superhydrophilic pattern. “The researchers can manipulate the technique to create any kind of pattern they want. They reckon this could be the factory or chemical plant of the future. Researcher Robert Cohen said. "I think there could be a lot of (applications) we haven't even thought of yet that might come out of this."

This is not a totally new development. We have previously mentioned FogQuest, who are extracting water from mountain fogs in Chile and Haiti with large sheets of cloth on ridgetops.

(It should be noted that funding for the Namib beetle research came in part from military sources, who it seems are interested in the concept for cleaning up hazardous spills.) ::MIT, via Fox News.