An article at the website Product Design & Development reviews a new and unique example of biomimetics — where engineers have turned to nature to improve our materials for constructing technology. According to the article, this “bioinspired material is a continuous liquid film that coats, and is infused in, an elastic porous substrate.” What makes it special is its ability to change shape as a liquid, a property found also in human tears:
The new material was inspired by dynamic, self-restoring systems in Nature, such as the liquid film that coats your eyes. Individual tears join up to form a dynamic liquid film with an obviously significant optical function that maintains clarity, while keeping the eye moist, protecting it against dust and bacteria, and helping to transport away any wastes — doing all of this and more in literally the blink of an eye.
The properties of this material evoke images of the evil T1000 from the Terminator movies who was capable of turning his body into a liquid, and reshaping it. Consider what the article goes on to say:
Sitting at rest, the material is smooth, clear and flat; droplets of water or oil on its surface flow freely off of the material. Stretching the material makes the fluid surface rougher, Yao explained. The rough surface makes it opaque for one thing, and enables one to do something never possible before: It offers the ability to make every droplet of oil or water that is placed on it reversibly start and stop in their tracks. This capability is far superior to the “switchable wettability” of other adaptive materials that exist today, Yao said, which simply switch between two states — from hydrophobic (water-hating) to hydrophilic (water-loving).
“In addition to transparency and wettability, we can fine-tune basically anything that would respond to a change in surface topography, such as adhesive or anti-fouling behavior,” Yao said. They can also design the porous elastic solid such that it responds dynamically to temperature, light, magnetic or electric fields, chemical signals, pressure, or other environmental conditions, he said.
According to one of the engineers involved with the project “This sophisticated new class of adaptive materials … have the potential to be game-changers in everything from oil and gas pipelines, to microfluidic and optical systems, building design and construction, textiles, and more.” And we have human tears to thank for all of these potentially profound breakthroughs.