There's a long and storied tradition of scientists getting fantastic ideas from nature, as there are few finer testing labs than the requirements of natural selection. The newest breakthrough in materials science based on a plant is Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces — or SLIPS. And it could one day give us self-cleaning, self-repairing rooms, just like the ones they appear to have on the Enterprise.
SLIPS is an incredibly efficient liquid repellant, and the design is based on the walls of the pitcher plant. Pitcher plants use their frictionless surfaces to trap insects in their flowers, and then devour them for sustenance. Inspired by this idea, researchers created a hard surface based on the same system, a porous air-filled surface with a lubricant. The nooks and crannies in the surface trap the lubricant in place, which means when any liquid is dripped on it, it's instantly repelled — and it does a pretty good job repelling solids too.
What makes this better than say, teflon? Well, it's inherently smooth and free of defects; if it's scratched, it repairs itself; it's self-cleaning; it functions at up to 675 atmospheres; and will repel liquids and solids at below freezing temperatures. You get the picture.
It doesn't take much to see the possible applications of this stuff. Windows that can't get iced up in winter. Medical tubing which can't be clogged. Walls to which graffiti will not stick. Oil pipelines that weather extreme conditions. The world's greatest slip-n-slide. Better non-stick cookware.
The uses for a self-healing, all-weather, low-friction surface are self-evidently huge. So, how long before we get to play with it with it?
Photo by chai kian shin via Shutterstock
Update: A friendly botanist has informed that the slipper part of the pitcher plant is the leaves, not the flower. Consider me suitably chastised.