Plant with Eggbeater-Shaped Hairs Inspires New Waterproof Coating

Ohio State University researchers have discovered that a weed, Salvinia molesta, that clogs up the waterways of many parts of the Americas and Australia actually holds the clues to creating a new type of waterproof coating for materials -- all thanks to a very unusual characteristic.

This weed has eggbeater-shaped hairs that trap air and keep the plant floating on the surface of the water -- and these odd hairs have inspired a brand new type of coating for things like boats or submarines.

floating weedWikipedia/CC BY 1.0

According to Ohio State University, the shape of the hairs allow it to easily trap air in little pockets, and the tip of the hairs are sticky so it can cling to the water. The hairs thus create a combination of buoyancy and clingy-ness that keep the plant floating but stale on the surface of the water. Engineers recreated this unusual feature using plastic and tests of the material so have have been successful.

Above, you can see how the hairs of the plant are sticky enough at the tips to hold on to water even when the leaf is turned on its side. And below, you can see how the hairs are shaped like tiny eggbeaters.

The engineers behind the new material think it could be made commercially for boats and other aquatic vehicles, helping to increase buoyancy while reducing friction and drag. So while the plant can be a pain and clog up waterways, it has provided some solid inspiration for biomimicry.

Plant with Eggbeater-Shaped Hairs Inspires New Waterproof Coating
The unusually shaped hairs on the leaves of this floating weed is the foundation for a high-tech waterproof material.

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