Scientists believe the discovery may help in the development of personal protective equipment (PPE) against the new coronavirus.
Investigating the surface of arthropods, researchers at Pennsylvania State University in the United States have detected a nanostructure that serves as a coating and makes some of these animals water repellent.
Scientists believe that their discovery may help to improve the personal protective equipment (PPE) used by health professionals, increasing its effectiveness – including against the new coronavirus.
According to the article published by the researchers last week in the journal Science Advances, much of the hydrophobic (or water repellent) material that exists today was developed from plant substances.
Traditionally, waterproof objects are made with low solid fraction materials, which maintain an extremely thin layer of air above microscopic nanostructures similar to hair.
“The reasoning is if the droplet or object is floating on top of that air, it won’t become stuck to the surface,” explained Tak-Sing Wong, co-author of the study, in a statement.
In the method developed in the new study, however, the material was created from the microscopic analysis of hydrophobic body structures common in arthropods, such as the eyes of a mosquito, the body of a springtail, and the wings of a cicada.
The nanoscopic “hairs” on these surfaces are very densely packed – a type of material classified as a high solid fraction.
Scientists believe this material can be used to create surfaces that are more resistant to the force and speed of liquids.
“For these insect surfaces, repelling water droplets is a matter of life and death. The impact force of raindrops is enough to carry them to the ground and kill them,” said Lin Wang, co-author of the research. “So, it is really important for them to stay dry, and we figured out how.”
The researchers hope the discovery will be useful in creating coatings for various objects, from small robots and airplanes, to deliver packages and personal protective equipment.
“If someone sneezes around a face shield, those are high velocity droplets. With a traditional coating, those particles could stick to the surface of the PPE,” Wong explained. “However, if the design principles detailed in this paper were adopted successfully, it would have the ability to repel those droplets much better and potentially keep the surface germ-free.”