Category Archives: biomimcry

Do Tenebrionind beetles collect dew or condensation—a water issue at the nanoscale

Up until now, the research I’ve stumbled across about Tenebrionind beetles and their water-collecting ways has been from the US but this latest work comes from a France/Spain,/UK collaboration which focused on a specific question, exactly where do these beetles harvest their water from? A Dec. 8, 2014 news item on Nanotechnology Now describes this latest research,

Understanding how a desert beetle harvests water from dew could improve drinking water collection in dew condensers

Insects are full of marvels – and this is certainly the case with a beetle from the Tenebrionind family, found in the extreme conditions of the Namib desert. Now, a team of scientists has demonstrated that such insects can collect dew on their backs – and not just fog as previously thought. This is made possible by the wax nanostructure on the surface of the beetle’s elytra. … They bring us a step closer to harvesting dew to make drinking water from the humidity in the air. This, the team hopes, can be done by improving the water yield of man-made dew condensers that mimick the nanostructure on the beetle’s back.

A Dec. 8, 2014  Springer press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes how this research adds to the body of knowledge about the ability to harvest water from the air,

It was not clear from previous studies whether water harvested by such beetles came from dew droplets, in addition to fog. Whereas fog is made of ready-made microdroplets floating in the air, dew appears following the cooling of a substrate below air temperature. This then turns the humidity of air into tiny droplets of water because more energy – as can be measured through infrared emissions – is sent to the atmosphere than received by it. The cooling capability is ideal, they demonstrated, because the insect’s back demonstrates near-perfect infrared emissivity.

Guadarrama-Cetina [José Guadarrama-Cetina] and colleagues also performed an image analysis of dew drops forming on the insect’s back on the surface of the elytra, which appears as a series of bumps and valleys. Dew primarily forms in the valleys endowed with a hexagonal microstructure, they found, unlike the smooth surface of the bumps. This explains how drops can slide to the insect’s mouth when they reach a critical size.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Dew condensation on desert beetle skin by J.M. Guadarrama-Cetina, A. Mongruel, M.-G. Medici, E. Baquero, A.R. Parker, I. Milimouk-Melnytchuk, W. González-Viñas, and D. Beysens. Eur. Phys. J. E (European Physics Journal E 2014) 37: 109, DOI 10.1140/epje/i2014-14109-y

This paper is currently (Dec. 8, 2014) open access. I do not know if this will be permanent or if access rights will change over time.

My previous postings on the topic of water and beetles have focused on US research of the Stenocara beetle (aka Namib desert beetle) which appears to be a member of the Tenebrionind family of beetles mentioned in this latest research.

The European researchers have provided an image of the beetle they were examining,

A preserved specimen of the Tenebrionind beetle (Physasterna cribripes) was used for this study, displaying the insect’s mechanisms of dew harvesting. © J.M. Guadarrama-Cetina et al.

A preserved specimen of the Tenebrionind beetle (Physasterna cribripes) was used for this study, displaying the insect’s mechanisms of dew harvesting. © J.M. Guadarrama-Cetina et al.

As for my other pieces on this topic, there’s a July 29, 2014 post, a June 18, 2014 post, and a Nov. 26, 2012 post.

Canadian nano: Lomiko Metals and its graphene supercapacitor project and NanoTech Security at a TEDx in Vancouver (Canada)

As best I can determine Lomiko Metals is involved in a graphene-based supercapacitor project with at least two interlocking pieces. Piece one is described in an Oct. 28, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Lomiko Metals Inc. and its 100% owned subsidiary Lomiko Technologies Inc. are pleased to announce an agreement to license from Megahertz Power Systems Ltd. rights to manufacture and sell three (3) power converter system designs, acquire a pending supply contract with a Canadian LED system integrator and support the research and development of new products.

“The Power Converter Market is a multi-billion dollar market. With the increasing demand for energy-efficient electronic devices, the advent of re-chargeable batteries and the new market for quick-charge supercapacitors, Lomiko has the opportunity to move into a growing market with a profitable business model.”, stated A. Paul Gill, CEO. [emphasis mine]

Lomiko will establish cash-flow under the current Customer Contract within six months which is based on proven and in-demand devices designed by MegaHertz. The creation of an e-commerce site in three to four (3-4) months will increase the customer base for the Licensed Power Systems over the estimated five (5) year product cycle. In the long term, Lomiko and MegaHertz will work on innovative new designs that power products using graphite and graphene based devices to dramatically raise operating efficiencies and help reduce the energy waste for the Electronic equipment, Energy Storage and Automotive Industries worldwide. [emphasis mine]

You can read more about the details in the Azonano news item or in the Lomiko Metals Oct. 27, 2014 news release.

As for piece two, Lomiko Metals has announced a supecapacitor project which would seem to align with the objectives mentioned in the October 2014 MegaHertz deal “… Lomiko and MegaHertz will work on innovative new designs that power products using graphite and graphene based devices to dramatically raise operating efficiencies and help reduce the energy waste … .” From a Dec. 4, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Lomiko Metals Inc. is very pleased to announce it has signed an agreement to invest in a new graphene-related venture, Graphene Energy Storage Devices (Graphene ESD Corp.), a U.S. Corporation.

On December 4, 2013, Lomiko reported on a successful conclusion to Phase I of its Graphene Supercapacitor Project which involved Graphene Laboratories Inc. and Stony Brook University. Graphene ESD Corp. has been formed to commercialize the technology and bring the graphene-based energy storage devices to market.

Supercapacitors bridge the gap between conventional capacitors and rechargeable batteries. They store the most energy per unit volume or mass (energy density) among capacitors. Supercapacitors power density is generally 10 to 100 times greater than normal capacitors or batteries. This results in much shorter charge/discharge cycles than batteries. Additionally, they will tolerate many more charge and discharge cycles than batteries. Incorporation of graphene material in supercapacitor electrodes may further improve energy and power density of the device. Graphene ESD Corp. will develop low-cost graphene-based supercapacitor devices that will be capable of even higher discharge currents. The development will focus on large-scale devices that are projected to have the lowest cost of power and stored energy in its class.

“As reported December 4, 2013, the Phase I Graphene Supercapacitor project yielded encouraging results. Graphene ESD Corp. will build on the success of this project and will be developing a graphene-based supercapacitor. [emphasis mine] The device is designed as a versatile energy storage solution for electronics, electric vehicles and electric grid.” stated A. Paul Gill, CEO of Lomiko Metals Inc. [emphasis mine] Graphene is finding new application in sensors, electronics, and advanced materials. Energy storage is a rapidly developing field which can benefit from the outstanding properties of graphene. We believe that graphene-based devices will deliver the best value for multiple energy storage applications.”

You can find more details both in the Azonano news item and in the Lomiko Metals Dec. 3, 2014 news release.

The second half of this post’s headline concerns a talk by Clint Landrock, Executive Vice President of Products for NanoTech Security Corp. and more, at the Renfrew-Collingwood (a neighbourhood in Vancouver, Canada) TEDx. From an Oct. 29, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Nanotech Security Corp. today announced that Vice President Clint Landrock presented at TEDxRenfrewCollingwood. The independently organized TED event was held on October 24, 2014.

The day-long event brought together more than 400 creators, catalysis, designers and thinkers from the Vancouver area to share ideas around the theme “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” Landrock presented on the influence of nature on innovation in technology, using Nanotech’s story as one example of what can be achieved when companies turn to nature as a source of inspiration. …

Landrock’s talk (a little over 11 mins. running time) has now been posted on YouTube or you can find it here. The organizers have posted this description of Landrock,

Clint serves as the Executive Vice President of Products for NanoTech Security Corp., and is a co-founder of IDME Technologies Corp.  He is an expert in the study of nano-optics and biomimicry. Clint currently holds several patents and over a dozen peer-reviewed publications in the field. He completed his bachelor degree in aerospace engineering at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, and his Masters of Applied Sciences at Simon Fraser University. Clint’s interests include commercial applications of nanotechnology and smart polymers, biomimicry, alpine and rock climbing and generally being outside.

I haven’t watched the talk in its entirety but he starts with the wonder and the dark side of technology. As his company, NanoTech Security, is a spin-off from Simon Fraser University and the technology is based on the nanostructures found on the Blue Morpho butterfly’s wing, I imagine the rest of his talk consists of biomimcry and ways of imitating nature as a means of dealing with the damaging aspects resulting from some of our current technologies.

Viewing a photosynthesis subsystem in a near-natural state

[downloaded from http://www.desy.de/infos__services/presse/pressemeldungen/@@news-view?id=9383]

Molecular structure of photosystem II, which arranges itself in rows. Credit: Martin Bommer/HU Berlin [downloaded from http://www.desy.de/infos__services/presse/pressemeldungen/@@news-view?id=9383]

Apparently, this image represents a near-natural state for a photosynthesis subsystem called, Photosynthesis II. Here’s more from a Nov. 4, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Photosynthesis is one of the most important processes in nature. The complex method with which all green plants harvest sunlight and thereby produce the oxygen in our air is, however, still not fully understood. Researchers using DESY’s X-ray light source PETRA III have examined a photosynthesis subsystem in a near-natural state. According to the scientists led by Privatdozentin Dr. Athina Zouni from the Humboldt University (HU) Berlin, the X-ray experiments on what is known as photosystem II reveal, for example, yet unknown structures. Their results are published in the scientific journal Structure (“Native-like Photosystem II Superstructure at 2.44 Å Resolution through Detergent Extraction from the Protein Crystal”). The technology utilised could also be of interest for analysing other biomolecules.

A Nov. 4, 2014 DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) press release, which originated the news item, describes some of the issues with studying ‘photosynthetic machinery’,

Photosystem II forms part of the photosynthetic machinery where water, with the help of sunlight, is split into hydrogen and oxygen. As one of the membrane proteins, it sits in the cell membrane. Membrane proteins are a large and vital group of biomolecules that are, for example, important in addressing a variety of medical issues. In order to decode the protein structure and reveal details on how biomolecules function, researchers use the very bright and short-wave X-rays of PETRA III and other similar facilities. Small crystals, however, must initially be grown from these biomolecules.

“The structure of single molecules cannot be directly seen even with the brightest X-rays,” explains co-author and DESY researcher Dr. Anja Burkhardt of Measuring Station P11, where the experiments were carried out. “In a crystal, however, a multitude of these molecules are arranged in a highly symmetrical fashion. Thus the signal, resulting from X-ray diffraction of these molecules, is amplified. The molecular structure can then be calculated from the diffraction images.”

In addition to these difficulties the scientists were also grappling with this problem (from the press release),

Biomolecules – and especially membrane proteins – cannot easily be compelled into crystal form as it is contrary to their natural state. Preparing suitable samples is therefore a crucial step in the whole analysis process. For instance, photosystem II must be first separated from the membrane, where it is bound to numerous small fat molecules (lipids). Researchers use special detergents for this purpose, such as those also principally found in soap. The catch: instead of lipids, the biomolecules are now surrounded by detergents, which may make the crystals spongy under certain conditions, thus exacerbating the analysis.

“What we want is to come as close as possible to nature,” stresses Zouni. The closer the proteins in the crystal are to their natural state, the better the results.

The press release describes how the team solved the problem,

“The trick was to use a detergent that strongly differs from the lipids in composition and structure,” explains the researcher.

Before examining the biomolecular crystals using X-rays, a portion of the water is extracted and replaced by an anti-freeze. The crystals are usually frozen for the experiments because the high-energy X-ray doesn’t damage them so quickly in the frozen state. During this process, the researchers would like to avoid ice formation.

“The dehydration process removed not only the water in our samples, but also completely removed the detergent, something we didn’t expect,” says Zouni.“Our samples are closer to the natural state than what has been reported before.”

Consequently, the investigation’s spatial resolution increased from about 0.6 nanometres (a millionth of a millimetre) to 0.244 nanometres. This is not, in fact, the highest resolution ever achieved in a photosystem II study, but the analysis shows that the photosystem II proteins are arranged within the crystals as pairs of rows, something that also occurs in the natural environment.

This latest development builds on previous research according to the press release,

Electron microscope investigations by Professor Egbert Boekema’s group at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands had already shown the photosystems’ crystal like arrangement in the natural membrane — a kind of tiny solar cell. Electron microscopy could better recognize connections using direct observation of the native membrane while X-ray crystallography could reveal the smallest details.

The press release ends with how the latest work could have an impact on further research,

“We placed the structural data over the electron microscope images – they matched precisely,” says Zouni. The investigation also revealed structures that were invisible before. “We can see exactly where the bonds to the lipids are located,” the scientist explains. The more the researchers discover about photosystem II, the better they understand exactly how it functions.

The procedure of using a new detergent, however, is not only interesting in terms of photosystem II. “The method can potentially be applied to many membrane proteins,” stresses Zouni. In the future, many biomolecules could maybe examined in a more natural state than ever before.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper from Zouni’s team,

Native-like Photosystem II Superstructure at 2.44 Å Resolution through Detergent Extraction from the Protein Crystal by Julia Hellmich, Martin Bommer, Anja Burkhardt, Mohamed Ibrahim, Jan Kern, Alke Meents, Frank Müh, Holger Dobbek, and Athina Zouni. Structure Volume 22, Issue 11, p1607–1615, 4 November 2014  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.str.2014.09.007

This paper is open access.

ETA Nov. 6, 2014: On the off chance the links to the Nanowerk news item or DESY press release do not yield results, you may be able to find the DESY Nov. 5, 2014 news release here on EurekAlert.

Like a starfish shell, facetless crystals

Made by accident, these facetless crystals could prove useful in applications for cells, medications, and more according to researchers at the University of Michigan in an Oct. 20, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

In a design that mimics a hard-to-duplicate texture of starfish shells, University of Michigan engineers have made rounded crystals that have no facets.

“We call them nanolobes. They look like little hot air balloons that are rising from the surface,” said Olga Shalev, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering who worked on the project.

There is a video with the researcher, Olga Shalev, describing the nanolobes in more detail,

An Oct. 17, 2014 University of Michigan news release (also on EurekAlert*), which originated the news item, offers text for those who prefer to read about the science rather than receive it by video,

Both the nanolobes’ shape and the way they’re made have promising applications, the researchers say. The geometry could potentially be useful to guide light in advanced LEDs, solar cells and nonreflective surfaces. A layer might help a material repel water or dirt. And the process used to manufacture them – organic vapor jet printing – might lend itself to 3D-printing medications that absorb better into the body and make personalized dosing possible.

The nanoscale shapes are made out of boron subphthalocyanine chloride, a material often used in organic solar cells. It’s in a family of small molecular compounds that tend to make either flat films or faceted crystals with sharp edges, says Max Shtein, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, macromolecular science and engineering, chemical engineering, and art and design.

“In my years of working with these kinds of materials, I’ve never seen shapes that looked like these. They’re reminiscent of what you get from biological processes,” Shtein said. “Nature can sometimes produce crystals that are smooth, but engineers haven’t been able to do it reliably.”

Echinoderm sea creatures such as brittle stars have ordered rounded structures on their bodies that work as lenses to gather light into their rudimentary eyes. But in a lab, crystals composed of the same minerals tend either to be faceted with flat faces and sharp angles, or smooth, but lacking molecular order.

The U-M researchers made the curved crystals by accident several years ago. They’ve since traced their steps and figured out how to do it on purpose.

In 2010, Shaurjo Biswas, then a doctoral student at U-M, was making solar cells with the organic vapor jet printer. He was recalibrating the machine after switching between materials. Part of the recalibration process involves taking a close look at the fresh layers of material, of films, printed on a plate. Biswas X-rayed several films of different thicknesses to observe the crystal structure. He noticed that the boron subphthalocyanine chloride, which typically does not form ordered shapes, started to do so once the film got thicker than 600 nanometers. He made some thicker films to see what would happen.

“At first, we wondered if our apparatus was functioning properly,” Shtein said.

At 800 nanometers thick, the repeating nanolobe pattern emerged every time.

For a long while, the blobs were lab curiosities. Researchers were focused on other things. Then doctoral student Shalev got involved. She was fascinated by the structures and wanted to understand the reason for the phenomenon. She repeated the experiments in a modified apparatus that gave more control over the conditions to vary them systematically. She collaborated with physics professor Roy Clarke to gain a better understanding of the crystallization, and mechanical engineering professor Wei Lu to simulate the evolution of the surface.. She’s first author of a paper on the findings published in the current edition of Nature Communications.

“As far as we know, no other technology can do this,” Shalev said.

The organic vapor jet printing process the researchers use is a technique Shtein helped to develop when he was in graduate school. He describes it as spray painting, but with a gas rather than with a liquid. It’s cheaper and easier to do for certain applications than competing approaches that involve stencils or can only be done in a vacuum, Shtein says. He’s especially hopeful about the prospects for this technique to advance emerging 3D-printed pharmaceutical concepts.

For example, Shtein and Shalev believe this method offers a precise way to control the size and shape of the medicine particles, for easier absorption into the body. It could also allow drugs to be attached directly to other materials and it doesn’t require solvents that might introduce impurities.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Growth and modelling of spherical crystalline morphologies of molecular materials by O. Shalev, S. Biswas, Y. Yang, T. Eddir, W. Lu, R. Clarke,  & M. Shtein. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 5204 doi:10.1038/ncomms6204 Published 16 October 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

* EurekAlert link added on Oct. 20, 2014 at 1035 hours PDT.

SLIPS (Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces) technology repels blood and bacteria from medical devices

Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed a coating for medical devices that helps to address some of these devices’ most  troublesome aspects. From an Oct. 12, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

From joint replacements to cardiac implants and dialysis machines, medical devices enhance or save lives on a daily basis. However, any device implanted in the body or in contact with flowing blood faces two critical challenges that can threaten the life of the patient the device is meant to help: blood clotting and bacterial infection.

A team of Harvard scientists and engineers may have a solution. They developed a new surface coating for medical devices using materials already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The coating repelled blood from more than 20 medically relevant substrates the team tested — made of plastic to glass and metal — and also suppressed biofilm formation in a study reported in Nature Biotechnology. But that’s not all.

The team implanted medical-grade tubing and catheters coated with the material in large blood vessels in pigs, and it prevented blood from clotting for at least eight hours without the use of blood thinners such as heparin. Heparin is notorious for causing potentially lethal side-effects like excessive bleeding but is often a necessary evil in medical treatments where clotting is a risk.

“Devising a way to prevent blood clotting without using anticoagulants is one of the holy grails in medicine,” said Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., Founding Director of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and senior author of the study. Ingber is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as professor of bioengineering at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

An Oct. 12, 2014 Wyss Institute news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the inspiration for this work,

The idea for the coating evolved from SLIPS, a pioneering surface technology developed by coauthor Joanna Aizenberg, Ph.D., who is a Wyss Institute Core Faculty member and the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at Harvard SEAS. SLIPS stands for Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces. Inspired by the slippery surface of the carnivorous pitcher plant, which enables the plant to capture insects, SLIPS repels nearly any material it contacts. The liquid layer on the surface provides a barrier to everything from ice to crude oil and blood.

“Traditional SLIPS uses porous, textured surface substrates to immobilize the liquid layer whereas medical surfaces are mostly flat and smooth – so we further adapted our approach by capitalizing on the natural roughness of chemically modified surfaces of medical devices,” said Aizenberg, who leads the Wyss Institute’s Adaptive Materials platform. “This is yet another incarnation of the highly customizable SLIPS platform that can be designed to create slippery, non-adhesive surfaces on any material.”

The Wyss team developed a super-repellent coating that can be adhered to existing, approved medical devices. In a two-step surface-coating process, they chemically attached a monolayer of perfluorocarbon, which is similar to Teflon. Then they added a layer of liquid perfluorocarbon, which is widely used in medicine for applications such as liquid ventilation for infants with breathing challenges, blood substitution, eye surgery, and more. The team calls the tethered perfluorocarbon plus the liquid layer a Tethered-Liquid Perfluorocarbon surface, or TLP for short.

In addition to working seamlessly when coated on more than 20 different medical surfaces and lasting for more than eight hours to prevent clots in a pig under relatively high blood flow rates without the use of heparin, the TLP coating achieved the following results:

  • TLP-treated medical tubing was stored for more than a year under normal temperature and humidity conditions and still prevented clot formation
  • The TLP surface remained stable under the full range of clinically relevant physiological shear stresses, or rates of blood flow seen in catheters and central lines, all the way up to dialysis machines
  • It repelled the components of blood that cause clotting (fibrin and platelets)
  • When bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa were grown in TLP-coated medical tubing for more than six weeks, less than one in a billion bacteria were able to adhere. Central lines coated with TLP significantly reduce sepsis from Central-Line Mediated Bloodstream Infections (CLABSI). (Sepsis is a life-threatening blood infection caused by bacteria, and a significant risk for patients with implanted medical devices.)

Out of sheer curiosity, the researchers even tested a TLP-coated surface with a gecko – the superstar of sticking whose footpads contain many thousands of hairlike structures with tremendous adhesive strength. The gecko was unable to hold on.

“We were wonderfully surprised by how well the TLP coating worked, particularly in vivo without heparin,” said one of the co-lead authors, Anna Waterhouse, Ph.D., a Wyss Institute Postdoctoral Fellow. “Usually the blood will start to clot within an hour in the extracorporeal circuit, so our experiments really demonstrate the clinical relevance of this new coating.”

While most of the team’s demonstrations were performed on medical devices such as catheters and perfusion tubing using relatively simple setups, they say there is a lot more on the horizon.

“We feel this is just the beginning of how we might test this for use in the clinic,” said co-lead author Daniel Leslie, Ph.D., a Wyss Institute Staff Scientist, who aims to test it on more complex systems such as dialysis machines and ECMO, a machine used in the intensive care unit to help critically ill patients breathe.

I first featured SLIPS technology in a Jan. 15, 2014 post about its possible use for stain-free, self-cleaning clothing. This Wyss Institute video about the latest work featuring the use of  SLIPS technology in medical devices also describes its possible use in pipelines and airplanes,

You can find research paper with this link,

A bioinspired omniphobic surface coating on medical devices prevents thrombosis and biofouling by Daniel C Leslie, Anna Waterhouse, Julia B Berthet, Thomas M Valentin, Alexander L Watters, Abhishek Jain, Philseok Kim, Benjamin D Hatton, Arthur Nedder, Kathryn Donovan, Elana H Super, Caitlin Howell, Christopher P Johnson, Thy L Vu, Dana E Bolgen, Sami Rifai, Anne R Hansen, Michael Aizenberg, Michael Super, Joanna Aizenberg, & Donald E Ingber. Nature Biotechnology (2014) doi:10.1038/nbt.3020 Published online 12 October 2014

This paper is behind a paywall but there is a free preview available via ReadCube Access.

Sharklet’s sharkskin-like material

It’s one of my favourite technologies but there hasn’t been much talk about Sharklet for the last few years. My Feb. 10, 2011 posting about it had this,

They used sharkskin as an example for making a ‘smarter’ material. Scientists have observed that nanoscale structures on a shark’s skin have antibacterial properties. This is especially important when we have a growing problem with bacteria that are antibiotic resistant. David Pogue’s (the program host) interviewed scientists at Sharklet and highlighted their work producing a plastic with nanostructures similar to those found on sharkskin for use in hospitals, restaurants, etc.  I found this on the Sharklet website (from a rotating graphic on the home page),

The World Health Organization calls antibiotic resistance a leading threat to human health.

Sharkjet provides a non-toxic approach to bacterial control and doesn’t create resistance.

The reason that the material does not create resistance is that it doesn’t kill the bacteria (antibiotics kill most bacteria but cannot kill all of them with the consequence that only the resistant survive and reproduce). Excerpted from Sharklet’s technology page,

While the Sharklet pattern holds great promise to improve the way humans co-exist with microorganisms, the pattern was developed far outside of a laboratory. In fact, Sharklet was discovered via a seemingly unrelated problem: how to keep algae from coating the hulls of submarines and ships. In 2002, Dr. Anthony Brennan, a materials science and engineering professor at the University of Florida, was visiting the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Oahu as part of Navy-sponsored research. The U.S. Office of Naval Research solicited Dr. Brennan to find new antifouling strategies to reduce use of toxic antifouling paints and trim costs associated with dry dock and drag.

The most recent news from Sharklet comes in a Sept. 16, 2014 news release on EurekAlert which refines the definition for Sharklet and provides research about the latest research on this material,

Transmission of bacterial infections, including MRSA and MSSA could be curbed by coating hospital surfaces with microscopic bumps that mimic the scaly surface of shark skin, according to research published in the open access journal Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control.

The study modelled how well different materials prevented the spread of human disease bacteria through touching, sneezes or spillages. The micropattern, named Sharklet™, is an arrangement of ridges formulated to resemble shark skin. The study showed that Sharklet harboured 94% less MRSA bacteria than a smooth surface, and fared better than copper, a leading antimicrobial material. The bacteria were less able to attach to Sharklet’s imperceptibly textured surface, suggesting it could reduce the spread of superbugs in hospital settings.

The surfaces in hospitals and healthcare settings are often rife with bacteria and patients are vulnerable to bacterial infection. Scientists are investigating the ability of different materials to prevent the spread of bacteria. Copper alloys are a popular option, as they are toxic to bacterial cells, interfering with their cellular processes and killing them. The Sharklet micropattern works differently – the size and composition of its microscopic features prevent bacteria from attaching to it. It mimics the unique qualities of shark skin, which, unlike other underwater surfaces, inhibits bacteria, because it is covered with a natural micropattern of tooth-like structures, called denticles.

Dr Ethan Mann, a research scientist at Sharklet Technologies, the manufacturer of the micropattern, says: “The Sharklet texture is designed to be manufactured directly into the surfaces of plastic products that surround patients in hospital, including environmental surfaces as well as medical devices. Sharklet does not introduce new materials or coatings – it simply alters the shape and texture of existing materials to create surface properties that are unfavorable for bacterial contamination.”

The researchers from Sharklet Technologies compared how well two types of infection-causing bacteria, methicillin-resistant or susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA and MSSA), fared at contaminating three surfaces – the Sharklet micropattern, a copper alloy, and a smooth control surface. They created experimental procedures to mimic common ways bacteria infect surfaces. Sneezing was mimicked by using a paint sprayer to spread the bacterial solution on 10 samples of each surface. To mimic infected patients touching the surfaces, velveteen cloth was put in contact with bacteria for 10s, and then placed on another set of each test surface for 10s. A third set of each surface was immersed in bacterial solution for an hour, then rinsed and dried, to mimic spills.

Surfaces were sampled for remaining contaminations either immediately following exposure to MSSA and MRSA or 90 minutes after being exposed. The Sharklet micropattern reduced transmission of MSSA by 97% compared to the smooth control, while copper was no better than the control. The micropattern also harboured 94% less MRSA bacteria than the control surface, while the copper had 80% less.

Dr Mann says: “Shark skin itself is not an antimicrobial surface, rather it seems highly adapted to resist attachment of living organisms such as algae and barnacles. Shark skin has a specific roughness and certain properties that deter marine organisms from attaching to the skin surface. We have learned much from nature in building this material texture for the future.”

Here’s an illustration the researchers have provided,

Caption: This is an image of the Sharklet micropattern, which mimics the denticles of shark skin. Credit: Mann et al.

Caption: This is an image of the Sharklet micropattern, which mimics the denticles of shark skin.
Credit: Mann et al.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Surface micropattern limits bacterial contamination by Ethan E Mann, Dipankar Manna, Michael R Mettetal, Rhea M May, Elisa M Dannemiller, Kenneth K Chung, Anthony B Brennan, and Shravanthi T Reddy. Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control 2014, 3:28  doi:10.1186/2047-2994-3-28

This is an open access paper.

Mothbots (cyborg moths)

Apparently the big picture could involve search and rescue applications, meanwhile, the smaller picture shows attempts to create a cyborg moth (mothbot). From an Aug. 20, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

North Carolina State University [US] researchers have developed methods for electronically manipulating the flight muscles of moths and for monitoring the electrical signals moths use to control those muscles. The work opens the door to the development of remotely-controlled moths, or “biobots,” for use in emergency response.

“In the big picture, we want to know whether we can control the movement of moths for use in applications such as search and rescue operations,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “The idea would be to attach sensors to moths in order to create a flexible, aerial sensor network that can identify survivors or public health hazards in the wake of a disaster.”

An Aug. 20, 2014 North Carolina State University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item,

The paper presents a technique Bozkurt developed for attaching electrodes to a moth during its pupal stage, when the caterpillar is in a cocoon undergoing metamorphosis into its winged adult stage. This aspect of the work was done in conjunction with Dr. Amit Lal of Cornell University.

But the new findings in the paper involve methods developed by Bozkurt’s research team for improving our understanding of precisely how a moth coordinates its muscles during flight.

By attaching electrodes to the muscle groups responsible for a moth’s flight, Bozkurt’s team is able to monitor electromyographic signals – the electric signals the moth uses during flight to tell those muscles what to do.

The moth is connected to a wireless platform that collects the electromyographic data as the moth moves its wings. To give the moth freedom to turn left and right, the entire platform levitates, suspended in mid-air by electromagnets. A short video describing the work is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jR325RHPK8o.

“By watching how the moth uses its wings to steer while in flight, and matching those movements with their corresponding electromyographic signals, we’re getting a much better understanding of how moths maneuver through the air,” Bozkurt says.

“We’re optimistic that this information will help us develop technologies to remotely control the movements of moths in flight,” Bozkurt says. “That’s essential to the overarching goal of creating biobots that can be part of a cyberphysical sensor network.”

But Bozkurt stresses that there’s a lot of work yet to be done to make moth biobots a viable tool.

“We now have a platform for collecting data about flight coordination,” Bozkurt says. “Next steps include developing an automated system to explore and fine-tune parameters for controlling moth flight, further miniaturizing the technology, and testing the technology in free-flying moths.”

Here’s an image illustrating the researchers’ work,

Caption: The moth is connected to a wireless platform that collects the electromyographic data as the moth moves its wings. To give the moth freedom to turn left and right, the entire platform levitates, suspended in mid-air by electromagnets. Credit: Alper Bozkurt

Caption: The moth is connected to a wireless platform that collects the electromyographic data as the moth moves its wings. To give the moth freedom to turn left and right, the entire platform levitates, suspended in mid-air by electromagnets.
Credit: Alper Bozkurt

I was expecting to find this research had been funded by the US military but that doesn’t seem to be the case according to the university news release,

… The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, under grant CNS-1239243. The researchers also used transmitters and receivers developed by Triangle Biosystems International and thank them for their contribution to the work.

For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the text and the full video,

Early Metamorphic Insertion Technology for Insect Flight Behavior Monitoring by Alexander Verderber, Michael McKnight, and Alper Bozkurt. J. Vis. Exp. (89), e50901, doi:10.3791/50901 (2014)

This material is behind a paywall.

White beetles and complex photonic nanostructures

At least one species of white beetles which have excited scientists with their complex nanostructures are native to Southeast Asia according to an Aug. 15, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The physical properties of the ultra-white scales on certain species of beetle could be used to make whiter paper, plastics and paints, while using far less material than is used in current manufacturing methods.

The Cyphochilus beetle, which is native to South-East Asia, is whiter than paper, thanks to ultra-thin scales which cover its body. A new investigation of the optical properties of these scales has shown that they are able to scatter light more efficiently than any other biological tissue known, which is how they are able to achieve such a bright whiteness.

An Aug. 15, 2014 University of Cambridge press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the properties needed to create the optical conditions necessary for the colour white to be seen,

Animals produce colours for several purposes, from camouflage to communication, to mating and thermoregulation. Bright colours are usually produced using pigments, which absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others, which our eyes then perceive as colour.

To appear as white, however, a tissue needs to reflect all wavelengths of light with the same efficiency. The ultra-white Cyphochilus and L. Stigma beetles produce this colouration by exploiting the geometry of a dense complex network of chitin – a molecule similar in structure to cellulose, which is found throughout nature, including in the shells of molluscs, the exoskeletons of insects and the cell walls of fungi. The chitin filaments are just a few billionths of a metre thick, and on their own are not particularly good at reflecting light.

The research, a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the European Laboratory for non-Linear Spectroscopy in Italy has shown that the beetles have optimised their internal structure in order to produce maximum white with minimum material, like a painter who needs to whiten a wall with a very small quantity of paint. This efficiency is particularly important for insects that fly, as it makes them lighter.

Here’s what the Cyphochilus beetle looks like,

Cyphochilus beetle Credit: Lorenzo Cortese and Silvia Vignolini

Cyphochilus beetle Credit: Lorenzo Cortese and Silvia Vignolini Courtesy University of Cambridge

The press release goes on to describe the beetle’s optical properties in greater detail,

Over millions of years of evolution the beetles have developed a compressed network of chitin filaments. This network is directionally-dependent, or anisotropic, which allows high intensities of reflected light for all colours at the same time, resulting in a very intense white with very little material.

“Current technology is not able to produce a coating as white as these beetles can in such a thin layer,” said Dr Silvia Vignolini of the University’s Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research. “In order to survive, these beetles need to optimise their optical response but this comes with the strong constraint of using as little material as possible in order to save energy and to keep the scales light enough in order to fly. Curiously, these beetles succeed in this task using chitin, which has a relatively low refractive index.”

The secret lies in the beetles’ nanostructures,

Exactly how this could be possible remained unclear up to now. The researchers studied how light propagates in the white scales, quantitatively measuring their scattering strength for the first time and demonstrating that they scatter light more efficiently than any other low-refractive-index material yet known.

“These scales have a structure that is truly complex since it gives rise to something that is more than the sum of its parts,” said co-author Dr Matteo Burresi of the Italian National Institute of Optics in Florence. “Our simulations show that a randomly packed collection of its constituent elements by itself is not sufficient to achieve the degree of brightness that we observe.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Bright-White Beetle Scales Optimise Multiple Scattering of Light by Matteo Burresi, Lorenzo Cortese, Lorenzo Pattelli, Mathias Kolle, Peter Vukusic, Diederik S. Wiersma, Ullrich Steiner, & Silvia Vignolini.  Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 6075 doi:10.1038/srep06075 Published 15 August 2014

This paper is open access.

A rose by any other name: water pinning nanostructures and wettability

There are two items about rose petals as bioinspiration for research in this posting. The first being the most recent research where scientists in Singapore have made an ultrathin film modeled on rose petals. From an Aug. 13, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

A*STAR [based in Singapore] researchers have used nanoimprinting methods to make patterned polymeric films with surface topography inspired by that of a rose petal, producing a range of transparent films with high water pinning forces (“Bioinspired Ultrahigh Water Pinning Nanostructures”).

An Aug. 13, 2014 A*STAR news highlight, which originated the news item, describes the nature of the research,

A surface to which a water droplet adheres, even when it is turned upside down, is described as having strong water pinning characteristics. A rose petal and a lotus leaf are both superhydrophobic, yet dissimilarities in their water pinning properties cause a water droplet to stick to a rose petal but roll off a lotus leaf. The two leaf types differ in their micro- and nanoscale surface topography and it is these topographical details that alter the water pinning force. The rose petal has almost uniformly distributed, conical-shaped microscale protrusions with nanoscale folds on these protrusions, while the lotus leaf has randomly distributed microscale protrusions.

The imprinted surfaces developed by Jaslyn Law and colleagues at the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering and the Singapore University of Technology and Design have uniformly distributed patterns of nanoscale protrusions that are either conical or parabolic in shape. The researchers found that the water pinning forces on these continuously patterned surfaces were much greater than on non-patterned surfaces and surfaces composed of isolated nanopillared structures or nanoscale gratings. They could then achieve high water pinning forces by patterning the nanoprotrusions onto polymeric films with a range of different non-patterned hydrophobicities, including polycarbonate, poly(methyl methacrylate) and polydimethylsiloxane (see image).

“Other methods that recreate the water pinning effect have used actual rose petals as the mold, but unless special care is taken, there are likely to be defects and inconsistencies in the recreated pattern,” says co-author Andrew Ng. “While bottom-up approaches for making patterns — for example, laser ablation, liquid flame spray or chemical vapor deposition — are more consistent, these methods are limited in the types of patterns that can be used and the scale at which a substrate can be patterned.”

In contrast, nanoimprinting methods are capable of fabricating versatile and large-scale surfaces, and can be combined with roll-to-roll techniques, hence potentially enabling more commercial applications.

The patterned polycarbonate surfaces were also shown to reduce the ‘coffee-ring’ effect: the unevenly deposited film left behind upon the evaporation of a solute-laden droplet. This mitigation of the coffee-ring effect may assist microfluidic technologies and, more generally, the patterned surfaces could be used in arid regions for dew collection or in anti-drip applications such as in greenhouses.

The study which was published online in Dec. 2013, was featured in a Jan. 22, 2014 article by Katherine Bourzac for C&EN (Chemistry and Engineering News),

In the early morning, dew clings to rose petals; when the sun rises, the dewdrops act like tiny lenses, making diffraction patterns that attract pollinating insects, says Jaslyn Bee Khuan Law, a materials scientist at the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR), in Singapore. A drop of water will cling to a rose petal even when it’s tilted or held upside down. The petals can hold onto these droplets because their surfaces consist of closely packed conical structures a few micrometers across. These microscale surface patterns tweak the surface tension of the water droplets, causing them to cling to the petals.

But none of these fabrication methods are amenable to large-scale, low-cost manufacturing, preventing commercialization of the water-clinging surfaces. So Law turned to a specialty of her lab: nanoimprint lithography. This printing method utilizes metal or silicon drums molded with nanoscale features on their surfaces. When the molds are heated and pressed against sheets of plastic, the plastic is embossed with the nanoscale pattern. This roll-to-roll printing process resembles the way newspapers are printed. It’s capable of producing large-area films in a short amount of time.

Water droplets easily slid off plastic films patterned with simple nanoscale gratings; isolated nanoscale pillars hung onto water slightly better. But the films with the best properties consisted of tightly packed cones about 300 nm tall. Plastic patterned with these structures could hold onto water droplets as massive as 69 mg. The team could print a 110- by 65-mm sheet of this plastic film at a speed of 10 m per minute. Currently, the dimensions of the films are limited by the size of the premade molds, Law says.

While the Singapore group has made good progress on manufacturing these materials, very basic, vexing questions about how water clings to these surfaces remain, Hayes says. For example, very small changes in the surface’s roughness can switch it from water-pinning to super hydrophobic, and researchers don’t have a detailed understanding of why.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Bioinspired Ultrahigh Water Pinning Nanostructures by Jaslyn Bee Khuan Law, Andrew Ming Hua Ng, Ai Yu He, and Hong Yee Low. Langmuir, 2014, 30 (1), pp 325–331 DOI: 10.1021/la4034996 Publication Date (Web): December 20, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

This paper appears to be open access (I was able to access it by clicking on the HTML option).

Finally, here’s an image supplied by the A*Star researchers to illustrate their work,

[downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/la4034996]

[downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/la4034996]

This second rose petal item comes from Australia and dates from Fall 2013. From a Sept. 18, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

A new nanostructured material with applications that could include reducing condensation in airplane cabins and enabling certain medical tests without the need for high tech laboratories has been developed by researchers at the University of Sydney [Australia].

“The newly discovered material uses raspberry particles — so-called because of their appearance — which can trap tiny water droplets and prevent them from rolling off surfaces, even when that surface is turned upside down,” said Dr Andrew Telford from the University’s School of Chemistry and lead author of the research recently published in the journal, Chemistry of Materials.

The ability to immobilise [pin] very small droplets on a surface is, according to Dr Telford, a significant achievement with innumerable potential applications.

A Sept. 17, 2013 University of Sydney news release, which originated the news item, provides more insight into the research where the scientists have focused on ‘raspberry particles’ which could also be described as the ‘conical structures’ mentioned in the A*STAR work to achieve what appear to be similar ends,

Raspberry particles mimic the surface structure of some rose petals.

“Water droplets bead up in a spherical shape on top of rose petals,” Dr Telford said. “This is a sign the flower is highly water repellent.”

The reasons for this are complex and largely due to the special structure of the rose petal’s surface. The research team replicated the rose petal by assembling raspberry particles in the lab using spherical micro- and nanoparticles.

The result is that water droplets bead up when placed on films of the raspberry particles and they’re not able to drip down from it, even when turned upside down.

“Raspberry particle films can be described as sticky tape for water droplets,” Dr Telford said.

This could be useful in preventing condensation issues in airplane cabins. It could also help rapidly process simple medical tests on free-standing droplets, with the potential for very high turnover of tests with inexpensive equipment and in remote areas.

Other exciting applications are under study: if we use this nanotechnology to control how a surface is structured we can influence how it will interact with water.

“This means we will be able to design a surface that does whatever you need it to do.

“We could also design a surface that stays dry forever, never needs cleaning or able to repel bacteria or even prevent mould and fungi growth.

“We could then tweak the same structure by changing its composition so it forces water to spread very quickly.

“This could be used on quick-dry walls and roofs which would also help to cool down houses.

“This can only be achieved with a very clear understanding of the science behind the chemical properties and construction of the surface,” he said.

The discovery is also potentially viable commercially.

“Our team’s discovery is the first that allows for the preparation of raspberry particles on an industrial scale and we are now in a position where we can prepare large quantities of these particles without the need to build special plants or equipment,” Dr Telford said.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the Australian paper,

Mimicking the Wettability of the Rose Petal using Self-assembly of Waterborne Polymer Particles by A. M. Telford, B. S. Hawkett, C. Such, and C. Neto. Chem. Mater., 2013, 25 (17), pp 3472–3479 DOI: 10.1021/cm4016386 Publication Date (Web): July 23, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

A butterfly kind of day: changing structural colour in six generations and developing fluidic devices

I have two items concerning butterflies. The first is a bioengineering project at Yale University where they changed the colour of a butterfly’s wings from brown to violet (from an Aug. 5, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily),

Yale University scientists have chosen the most fleeting of mediums for their groundbreaking work on biomimicry: They’ve changed the color of butterfly wings.

In so doing, they produced the first structural color change in an animal by influencing evolution. The discovery may have implications for physicists and engineers trying to use evolutionary principles in the design of new materials and devices.

An Aug.5, 2014 Yale University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item,

“What we did was to imagine a new target color for the wings of a butterfly, without any knowledge of whether this color was achievable, and selected for it gradually using populations of live butterflies,” said Antónia Monteiro, a former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale, now at the National University of Singapore.

In this case, Monteiro and her team changed the wing color of the butterfly Bicyclus anynana from brown to violet. They needed only six generations of selection.

The news release goes on to explain the interest in structural colour,

Little is known about how structural colors in nature evolved, although researchers have studied such mechanisms extensively in recent years. Most attempts at biomimicry involve finding a desirable outcome in nature and simply trying to copy it in the laboratory.

“Today, materials engineers are making complex materials to perform multiple functions. The parameter space for the design of such materials is huge, so it is not easy to search for the optimal design,” said Hui Cao, chair of Yale’s Department of Applied Physics, who also worked on the study. “This is why we can learn from nature, which has obtained the optimal solutions in many cases via natural evolution over millions of years.”

Indeed, the scientists explained, natural selection algorithms can select for multiple characteristics simultaneously — which is standard operating procedure in the natural world.

A bit of technical information is also included in the news release,

The desired color for the butterfly wings was achieved by changing the relative thickness of the wing scales — specifically, those of the lower lamina. It took less than a year of selective breeding to produce the color change from brown to violet.

One reason Bicyclus anynana was chosen for the experiment, Monteiro said, was because it has cousin species that have evolved violet colors on their wings twice independently. By reproducing such a change in the lab, the Yale team showed that butterfly populations harbor high levels of genetic variation regulating scale thickness that lets them react quickly to new selective conditions.

“We just thought if natural selection has been able to modify wing colors in members of this genus of butterfly, perhaps so can we,” Monteiro said.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Artificial selection for structural color on butterfly wings and comparison with natural evolution by Bethany R. Wasik, Seng Fatt Liew, David A. Lilien, April J. Dinwiddie, Heeso Noh, Hui Cao, and Antónia Monteiro. PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1402770111 Published online August 4, 2014

This seems to be an open access paper (I was able to access the six page paper, albeit in a small font, by clicking on an Adobe reader icon).

I have not been able to find an image of the newly violet-coloured Bicyclus anynana butterfly but Yale University has provided an image of the pre-bioengineered version,

This image shows a male Bicyclus anynana, prior to the wing color change. (Below) This image shows the color change from brown to violet, over six generations of breeding. (Photographs courtesy of Antónia Monteiro)

This image shows a male Bicyclus anynana, prior to the wing color change. (Below) This image shows the color change from brown to violet, over six generations of breeding. (Photographs courtesy of Antónia Monteiro)

One of my favourite pieces on structural colour was written for The Scientist and was featured here in a Feb. 7, 2013 posting. Interestingly, Yale University is mentioned in that posting too.

This second butterfly piece focuses on its feeding habits and possible medical applications. From an Aug. 5, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

New discoveries about how butterflies feed could help engineers develop tiny probes that siphon liquid out of single cells for a wide range of medical tests and treatments, according to Clemson University researchers.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded the project $696,514. It was the foundation’s third grant to the project, bringing the total since 2009 to more than $3 million.

The research has brought together Clemson’s materials scientists and biologists who have been focusing on the proboscis, the mouthpart that many insects used for feeding.

For materials scientists, the goal is to develop what they call “fiber-based fluidic devices,” among them probes that could eventually allow doctors to pluck a single defective gene out of a cell and replace it with a good one, said Konstantin Kornev, a Clemson materials physics professor. “If someone were programmed to have an illness, it would be eliminated,” he said.

An Aug. 5, 2014 Clemson University media release by Paul Alongi (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains that this latest research is one of the first steps in a long journey,

… Much remains unknown about how insects use tiny pores and channels in the proboscis to sample and handle fluid.

“It’s like the proverbial magic well,” said Clemson entomology professor Peter Adler. “The more we learn about the butterfly proboscis, the more it has for us to learn about it.”

Kornev said he was attracted to butterflies for their ability to draw various kinds of liquids.

“It can be very thick like nectar and honey or very thin like water,” he said. “They do that easily. That’s a challenge for engineers.”

Researchers want the probe to be able to take fluid out of a single cell, which is 10 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, Kornev said. The probe also will need to differentiate between different types of fluids, he said.

The technology could be used for medical devices, nanobioreactors that make complex materials and flying “micro-air vehicles” the size of an insect.

“It opens up a huge number of applications,” Kornev said. “We are actively seeking collaboration with cell biologists, medical doctors and other professionals who might find this research exciting and helpful in their applications.”

The study also is breaking new ground in biology. While scientists had a fundamental idea of how butterflies feed, it was less complete than it is now, Adler said.

Scientists have long known that butterflies use the proboscis to suck up fluid, similar to how humans use a drinking straw, Adler said. But the study found that the butterfly proboscis also acts as a sponge, he said.

“It’s a dual mechanism,” Adler said. “As they move the proboscis around, it can help sponge up the liquid and then facilitate the delivery of the liquid so that it can then be sucked up.”

As part of the study, researchers observed butterflies on flowers at the Cherry Farm Insectary just south of the main campus on the shore of Hartwell Lake. Butterflies were raised in the lab and recorded on video as they fed.

Researchers are turning their attention to smaller insects, such as flies, moths and mosquitoes, but the focus will remain on the proboscis.

In the next phase of the study, researchers would like to understand how the proboscis forms.

Larvae enter the pupa without a proboscis and emerge as a butterfly with one. Understanding what happens in the pupa could help develop the probes, Adler said.

Another challenge is figuring out how to keep the probe from getting covered with organic material when it’s inserted into the body, he said.

That’s why researchers are beginning to turn their focus to an insect almost everyone else shoos away.

“It seems the flies are able to pierce an animal’s tissue, take up the blood and not get the proboscis gummed up and covered with bacteria,” Adler said.

Tanju Karanfil, associate dean of research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering and Science, said the study has underscored the importance of breaking down silos that separate researchers from different departments so they can work for the common good.

“The most interesting work happens at the intersection of disciplines,” he said. “In this case, biologists and engineers have come together with different perspectives to answer common questions.

I have a link (which takes you to a correction for the text) and a citation for the paper,

Paradox of the drinking-straw model of the butterfly proboscis by Chen-Chih Tsai, Daria Monaenkova, Charles Beard, Peter Adler, and Konstantin Kornev. J. Exp. Biol. 217, 2130-2138. Original article: doi: 10.1242/​jeb.097998 June 15, 2014 J Exp Biol 217, 2130-2138 Correction: doi: 10.1242/​jeb.109447 July 1, 2014

The article is behind a paywall but you can view the correction in its entirety.