As more regions suffer from droughts, scientists take inspiration from cactus, Namib desert beetle and the pitcher plant to develop a new material capable of collecting water from thin air. The new design can greatly help increase water generation where it is scarce.

The new study has found that the beetle's bump location and physical arrangement are the keys to its water-generating success and not its surface chemistry.

The team also fused the cactus spines' design to help in the water droplets transportation. The movement creates friction so the team coated the bumps with a lubricating agent, just like the pitcher plant's slick coating.

The fusion of bio inspirations made water droplets grow six times faster, which increased along with the rise in temperature. The study is the first to fuse numerous bio designs into one solution.

"We were able to design a material that can collect and transport a greater volume of water in a short time compared to other surfaces," said the study's first author Kyoo-Chul Park. The design fused the beetle's bump shape, the cactus spines' asymmetry and the pitcher plant's friction-free coats.

Joanna Aizenberg, Ph.D. said their research reveals that a complex bio-inspired design is a "new, promising direction in biomimetics." In this approach, the focus is not just on one biological species but the inspiration is taken from multiple sources found in nature. Aizenberg is a Wyss Institute faculty member who was part of the research team.

It was initially expected that bigger water droplets would form on colder surfaces. However, the study revealed the opposite when bigger droplets formed at warmer temperatures.

The technology can greatly benefit regions with hot and dry climate. It provides a method to collect water droplets fast before they have a chance to evaporate. Moreover, it can improve power generation.

"Thermal power plants, for example, rely on condensers to quickly convert steam to liquid water," said co-author Philseok Kim. The design can definitely hasten the process. It can also make operations possible at higher temperatures and increase energy efficiency.

The team is composed of researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. The design details were published in the Nature journal on Feb. 24.

Photo: Kat Grigg | Flickr

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