Desert Beetle And Cactus Inspired Material Can Pull Water From Thin Air

Posted: Feb 25 2016, 2:58am CST | by , Updated: Feb 25 2016, 11:43pm CST, in News | Latest Science News


Desert Beetle and Cactus Inspired Material Can Pull Water from Thin Air
Credit: Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS)

New bioinspired material is a more effect way to collect and transport water droplets.

Models predict that many regions of our planet will get drier in the years to come and we will likely face a severe shortage of water. Therefore, we will require more effective methods to pull the water from air. 

Researchers from Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) are already working on one such method. They have drawn inspiration from desert-dwelling organisms to develop a new unique material that can suck water droplets from the air in greater volume and faster than any regular material. 

“Everybody is excited about bioinspired materials research. However, so far, we tend to mimic one inspirational natural system at a time,” said Joanna Aizenberg from SEAS. 

“Our research shows that a complex bioinspired approach, in which we marry multiple biological species to come up with non-trivial designs for highly efficient materials with unprecedented properties, is a new, promising direction in biomimetics.”


Organisms such as desert beetles and cactus can survive arid environments. They naturally have those mechanisms which can collect water drops from the thin air. For instance, Namib desert beetle collects water on the bumpy shell on its back from early morning fog while cactus’ V-shape spines directs water to the plant’s body.

To quicken the flow of condensed water, researchers have used pitcher plant inspired slippery surfaces.

Over the years, many researchers focused on the mechanism which can explain how the beetle attracts water but this team of researchers looked at the beetles bumpy shells alone and replicated it for creating an innovative material. 

“We experimentally found that the geometry of bumps alone could facilitate condensation,” said Kyoo-Chul Park, one of the researchers involved in the study. “By optimizing that bump shape through detailed theoretical modeling and combining it with the asymmetry of cactus spines and the nearly friction free coatings of pitcher plants, we were able to design a material that can collect and transport a greater volume of water in a short amount of time.”

This approach has implications not only for harvesting but also for thermal power stations that generate electric power through heat energy.

“Thermal power plants, for example, rely on condensers to quickly convert steam to liquid water,” said co researcher Philseok Kim. “This design could help speed up that process and even allow for operation at a higher temperature, significantly improving the overall energy efficiency.”  

“This research is an exciting first step towards developing a passive system that can efficiently collect water and guide it to a reservoir.”



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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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