Ten Materials Inspired By Mother Nature (VIDEO)

The natural world is filled with strange, fascinating structures that are stronger, more flexible and more resilient than anything humans can make.

5. Water striders’ legs and shark skin

Photo: Alexander/Flickr/CC
Photo: Alexander/Flickr/CC

Water striders effortlessly glide over water surfaces because of super-hydrophobic structures in their legs. On the opposite end of the spectrum is shark skin, whose super-hydrophilic hierarchical scales considerably reduce drag forces in fluids.

For many decades, super-hydrophobic and super-hydrophilic structures have been central topics of bioinspired engineering, with Professor Jiang Lei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Beihang University in Beijing, China, at the frontline of research in this area.

In daily life, super-hydrophobic materials are used as textiles (such as the well-known Gore-Tex™ fiber), water-resistant protective screens of electronics, and self-cleaning surfaces.

On the other hand, shark-inspired swimsuits enhance gliding by minimizing hydrodynamic drag. These swimsuits were, in fact, so effective that the International Olympic Committee ended up banning them. The Committee also invalidated many world records that were broken—thanks, in large part, to these high-performance swimsuits!

Ali Miserez is an assistant professor at the School of Materials Science and Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

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