The planet is getting drier and scientists are eager to find a way to avoid it. They have been inspired by little beetles that live on the desert which manage to harvest water from the air.

On the deserts of Skeleton Coast in Namibia, there is a beetle that can survive in arid environments because they have evolved mechanisms that allow them to collect water from the air. This beetle collects water droplets on the bumps of its shell.

A team of researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University is trying to develop a better way to promote and transport condensed water droplets.

Photo: The Huffington Post
Photo: The Huffington Post

Where did inspiration come from?

Inspiration did not only come from the beetle. They were also inspired by a condensation system used for water collection on Tatooine where Luke Skywalker was raised, from the famous Star Wars movies.

Scientists developed a water-saving coating material that when put under a rain of steady droplets, it condenses air water vapor into liquid a lot faster than any other known material. It was outlined in a study published in the journal Nature.

 According to Popular Mechanics, such material would be quite useful on any machine with a heat exchanger that relies on water collection for heat transfer.
“That’s anything from a thermal power plant to a water distillation plant, or a humidification system and any HVAC system used in cars, trains, or airplanes,” said Kyoo-Chul Park, mechanical engineer and lead of the team of researchers that developed the coating, as reported by the website.
As we know, the main inspiration for the material came from the beetle and Star Wars, but other organisms also contributed to its creation. Scientists combined the bumpy shell of the African desert beetle along with the skin of a carnivorous plant and the V-shaped spines of a cactus. All these organisms’ biological materials encourage the condensation of water droplets.

The coating

Following the beetles appearance, scientists molded bumps to form semi-triangular ramps on one side. The ramps’ wedge open downward guiding droplets to where the water is collected, following the appearance of certain kind of cactus spines.

Popular Mechanics explains in their article how the ramp works:

“As a water droplet grows in size, it’s forced to move farther down the ramp to fit on that wedge. Because of water’s high surface tension, droplets prefer to slide down the expanding ramp to fit rather than break apart. As the droplets move down the ramp, they’ll pick up more tiny water droplets in their path, growing further still. Because of these ramps, droplets roll down the material faster than they would due to the pull of gravity alone.”

They also explained the team of researchers found that this effect is so strong that droplets can even move against gravity when sliding on a ramp that is facing the sky.

The material’s last touch follows what carnivorous pitcher plants do to catch insects. As the plants fill their pitcher with a watery digestive fluid, the coating is covered with a slick coating that helps droplets slide easily down the surface.

So, the bumps cause water to condense into big drops, the ramps force droplets to slide down and the slick material speeds up the whole process, all creating the amazing material that could save the Planet from getting drier and drier.

Source: Journal Nature