Stores are full of high-tech gadgets and gizmos that get more complicated every day. But solutions to technological problems may already exist in the natural world around us. Case in point: Two groups of scientists have come up with clever new designs for waterproof coatings. Their inspiration? Butterfly wings and lotus leaves.
Water beads atop the wings of the Morpho sulkowskyi butterfly.
|Gu et al., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.|
Scientists have long been trying to make materials that effectively repel water. But some plants and animals have already solved the problem. When rain falls on certain butterflies' wings, for example, the water forms into beads that roll right off, carrying dirt away in the process.
A team of scientists in Japan decided to follow Nature's lead by focusing on a kind of butterfly called Morpho sulkowskyi. Morpho butterflies have bright blue wings that sparkle in sunlight. Using a mixture of waterproofing compounds and other chemicals, Zhong-Ze Gu and colleagues created a Morpho-like material in colors ranging from red to blue. Another group in Turkey used a cheap and common kind of plastic to make a different waterproof material, similar to the leaves of the lotus plant.
Lotus flower and water-repelling leaves.
|U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service|
The new materials might make useful coatings for windows, cameras, and other objects. The fashionable Japanese coating would also be environmentally friendly because there would be no need for harsh dyes to color it or detergents to clean it.
So, next time it rains, try this: Make like a butterfly and repel!—E. Sohn
Gorman, Jessica. 2003. Waterproof coats: Materials repel water with simplicity, style.  Science News 163(March 1):132-133. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/20030301/fob4.asp  .