Lizards and bark bugs are more similar than they may at first appear: both have unique ways of dealing with water, and this has caught scientists' eyes. The LiNaBioFluid project hopes to replicate both skin systems in organic and inorganic materials for a wide range of applications.
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The animal world is home to a menagerie of complex models and systems. When we as humans try to recreate some of these elements, it is known as biomimicry. Doing so can help solve complex human problems.
The EU-funded LiNaBioFluid project is attempting to mimic the exceptional ability of lizards and bark bugs to channel water both efficiently and quickly.
Certain lizards (such as the horned and spiky lizard) have networks of microscopic capillaries on their backs that can suck in water and channel it quickly and efficiently to the lizard’s mouth, maximising their uptake of water from the limited rainfall in their desert habitats.
Bark bugs are also special in this respect. Their bodies are made up of numerous tiny spikes which create a thin film of water, reducing the insect’s reflectivity. So when it rains, the bug – just like the tree it inhabits – turns darker and it is concealed from predators.
The LiNaBioFluid will study these different body surfaces and attempt to mimic their wetting properties in both organic (acrylic) and inorganic (steel) industrial materials. The project will use lasers to recreate the natural microscopic channels, ridges and spikes in their integuments.
Success could lead to innovative underwater applications, including materials with better friction, which experience less wear and tear in liquids, or exhibit reduced drag. Other applications could include the separation of water and oil, high-power device cooling or the development of more robust slide bearings.