Superhydrophobic plastics

Researchers in the UK and Australia are hoping to mimic the chemical make-up found on the surface of insect wings in an attempt to develop superhydrophobic plastics and polymeric materials.

Gregory Watson of the James Cook University in Queensland is working alongside researchers at Griffith, Queensland and Oxford universities on a project that aims to develop advanced materials with specific dust and water-resistant properties.

The team has carried out initial atomic force microscopy analysis on the surface of insect wings to determine how fine particles are attracted to or repelled by the surface. The research suggests that small forces of just a few billionths of a Newton are needed to shed nanoscopic dust particles.

‘Many of the surfaces demonstrate superhydrophobic properties and will not only reduce the effects of contact with surfaces but also promote a self-cleaning function for removing foreign bodies,’ the team said.

Using these results, the researchers are attempting to replicate the surface structure of the wing in polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) on a wing membrane.

The research is hoped to lead to advanced materials that can be used for applications ranging from nano- and micro-electromechanical systems (NEMS and MEMS) to lab-on-a-chip devices for medical diagnosis.