Scientists develop amazing new waterproof surface that mimics plant leaves, butterfly wings

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: waterproof surface, scientific development, butterfly wings

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(NaturalNews) The advancement of science has taken yet another groundbreaking cue from nature, this time in the development of state-of-the-art waterproof materials. A team of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has reportedly come up with an amazing new waterproof surface that mimics the unparalleled, moisture-repellant properties naturally found in things like plant leaves and butterfly wings, a discovery that could revolutionize many modern industries.

The new technology, which draws from patterns found specifically in the veins of nasturtium leaves and Morpho butterfly wings, is said to be the "most waterproof material ever." BBC News reports that its application on a silicon surface increased the speed of that surface's repellant properties by an amazing 40 percent more than the previously assumed limit. And since the technology can also be integrated into other surfaces like fabric and metals, its use potential is virtually limitless.

"We believe these are the most super-hydrophobic surfaces yet," stated MIT Professor Kripa Varanasi, one of the researchers involved with the project, to BBC News. "For years industry has been copying the lotus. They should start thinking about copying butterflies and nasturtiums."

Using ridges to increase surface contact area helps better repel water

For years, the scientific community has relied almost exclusively on the lotus leaf as a type of master template for developing waterproof technologies. Lotus leaves, according to, have a uniquely high "contact angle," which means droplets of water and other liquids that come into contact with them only touch a very small area on their surface.

"The droplet creates a perfect 'pancake' and then quickly springs back up and off the surface," writes Daniel D. Snyder for

The surfaces of nasturtium leaves and Morpho butterfly wings possess similar repellant properties but are even more effective than lotus leaves at bouncing off water droplets and splitting them up into smaller portions. These mini-droplets, which obviously have a reduced surface area, are less able to penetrate the contact surface and instead roll off of it more easily, keeping it dry.

According to BBC News, the team developed larger, macroscopic structures with ridges based on those found on nasturtium leaves and Morpho butterfly wings that actually increase the surface area where liquid can touch but also maximize the breakdown of that same liquid into smaller, asymmetric pieces. When combined with aluminum and copper oxides, this process led to a considerable increase in the speed at which liquid is repelled.

Improving quality of life with drier surfaces

An extremely versatile technology, Varanasi believes these new designs have the potential to revolutionize existing technologies like aircraft engines, for instance, which could be rebuilt with improvements that would better prevent water from freezing on their surfaces. Power stations and wind farms, and all their corresponding equipment, could also be retrofitted to better shed moisture, boost efficiency and improve overall performance.

"Sportswear, lab coats, military clothing, and tents" could all benefit from the technology, says Varanasi. "[T]here are a whole range of situations where you want to stay dry ... I'm looking forward to working with the fabrics industry to develop new clothing that stays dry longer. What will be the next Gore-Tex?"

In the meantime, Varanasi and his team hope to continue refining the technology to produce even better results. One way they hope to do this is by increasing the number of ridges in the technology, as initial tests were conducted on surfaces with only one ridge.

"I hope we can manage to get a 70 to 80 percent reduction [in contact time]," he adds. "There's a lot of room left [for improvement]."

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