The Butterfly Effect
November 8, 2012
If you live in the UK and happened to have tuned into BBC 1 at 9pm on Monday, you would have noticed a programme called Richard Hammond's Miracles of Nature. If you missed it, the first episode entitled: Super-Bodies can be seen on the BBC iPlayer now (UK only).
But why highlight this you maybe asking? Good question. Well, the answer is quite simple, we featured in it from 45 minutes in :)
The show, which has three, one-hour episodes, follows Richard Hammond around the world as he takes a closer look at some amazing animals and how their natural abilities are inspiring new technological developments. In the show, we learn how the way a giraffe controls it blood pressure when bending down to drink has inspired the development of fighter pilot suits to combat the stresses of g-forces. In addition, did you know that a woodpecker's skull is teaching us how to develop more protective crash helmets - demonstrated in the show by dropping a light bulb from space in a protective casing designed to be like the scull of the woodpecker.
As the episode approaches its conclusion, attention turns to South America, in particular the rainforest, where a creature with a unique ability lives, the Morpho Butterfly.
The Morpho Butterfly - As seen of BBC 1s Miracles of Nature
So what makes this butterfly unique? As you can imagine, living in the forests of South America, it rains alot, and if only a fraction of water was to be absorbed into its wing, the result would cause the butterfly to be unstable as the water would make their wings heavy and flying impossible. However, the butterfly combats this with a clever adaption, its wings are totally water repellent, meaning that any rain drops that do come into contact with it, simply bead up and roll off. Sounding familiar?
In nature, there are many examples of animals and plants that have developed water repellent surfaces to ensure they stay dry - the lotus leaf being one particular example. And of course, we have all heard of the expression 'like water off a duck's back'? Which although has different connotations, does originally refer to the way a ducks feathers repel water, staying light and dry even when submerged.
How is it then that the Morpho butterfly, lotus leaf and feathers from a duck repel water so well? To answer that you need a microscope with significant zoom. While the wings on the Morpho butterfly look and feel smooth, when viewed on the nanoscale (x1000) it is clear that they are actually made up of millions of tiny ridges. Although we can't see it with the naked eye, these invisible ridges ensure that only the smallest amounts of water actually comes into contact with the surface, resulting in the water remaining in droplet/bead form and simply rolling off.
If you are familiar with our technology you will know that any water that comes into contact with our coating beads up and rolls off. There is however a difference as to how this roll off effect is created. Our technology is applied as a surface chemistry, meaning the coating is molecularly bonded to the surface of products given it a low surface energy in order to repel water. The butterfly however, has a natural surface roughness to its wings which creates an air-liquid interface which effectively lowers the surface energy and repels water. In nature this technique works well but the reason we use a surface chemistry over roughness is due to its durability. When a roughness coating is applied to man-made objects it is not chemically bonded to its surface resulting in the durability and repellency diminishing very quickly. Not a problem in nature as the butterfly can replace its surface when required but in man-made products, a surface chemistry such as P2i technology is a more effective and reliable option for repelling water.
We achieve this water repellency by placing complete products within a chamber where our coating is applied in a gas form, molecularly bonding to both the external and internal materials, altering their surface energy. The result: a completely water repellent product.
For Miracles of Nature, the BBC wanted to take it one step further and we were tasked with treating more unusual items, such as a newspaper, egg carton and an entire white suit. To see the results you will have to watch the show, it is worth it we promise, but below are some stills to give you a little teaser:
Water repellent newspaper
Hydrophobic suit (As seen on BBC 1s Miracles of Nature)