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Inspired by Nature: Textured Materials for Industry and Military Applications

Posted on: 09/05/2013
The lotus leaf has a unique microscopic texture and wax-like coating that enables it to easily repel water. Taking this inspiration from nature, University of Virginia researchers have figured out a way to make metals and plastics that can do virtually the same thing. The new method uses high-powered lasers and nanotechnology to create a similar texture that repels water, captures sunlight, and prevents the buildup of ice.

These textured materials can be used over large areas and potentially could have important applications in products where ice poses a danger. This includes use in aviation, the automobile industry, the military, and protection of communication towers, wind turbine blades, bridges, roofs, ships, satellite dishes, and even snowboards. The material’s ability to trap sunlight could also enhance the performance of solar cells.

The research team first made a piece of textured metal that serves as a mold to mass-produce many pieces of plastic with the same micro-texture. The replication process is similar to the one used in manufacturing compact discs. Scientists use high-powered lasers to focus the beams on a metal surface. The metal absorbs the laser light and heats to a melting temperature of about 1200 degrees Centigrade in a process that rearranges the surface material to form a microtexture. All of this happens in less than 0.1 millionth of a second. The produced microtexture is then used as a stamper to replicate microtexture in polymers. The stamper can be used many, many times, allowing a low cost manufacturing process.

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