The Humboldt penguin’s feathers don’t allow ice to form and a team of scientists have figured out why according to a Feb. 24, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,
Humboldt penguins live in places that dip below freezing in the winter, and despite getting wet, their feathers stay sleek and free of ice. Scientists have now figured out what could make that possible. They report in ACS’ Journal of Physical Chemistry C that the key is in the microstructure of penguins’ feathers. Based on their findings, the scientists replicated the architecture in a nanofiber membrane that could be developed into an ice-proof material.
A Feb. 24, 2016 American Chemical Society (ACS) news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides a bit more detail,
The range of Humboldt penguins extends from coastal Peru to the tip of southern Chile. Some of these areas can get frigid, and the water the birds swim in is part of a cold ocean current that sweeps up the coast from the Antarctic. Their feathers keep them both warm and ice-free. Scientists had suspected that penguin feathers’ ability to easily repel water explained why ice doesn’t accumulate on them: Water would slide off before freezing. But research has found that under high humidity or ultra-low temperatures, ice can stick to even superhydrophobic surfaces. So Jingming Wang and colleagues sought another explanation.
The researchers closely examined Humboldt penguin feathers using a scanning electron microscope. They found that the feathers were comprised of a network of barbs, wrinkled barbules and tiny interlocking hooks. In addition to being hydrophobic, this hierarchical architecture with grooved structures is anti-adhesive. Testing showed ice wouldn’t stick to it. Mimicking the feathers’ microstructure, the researchers developed an icephobic polyimide fiber membrane. They say it could potentially be used in applications such as electrical insulation.
The researchers have provided an image illustrating their work,Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,
Icephobicity of Penguins Spheniscus Humboldti and an Artificial Replica of Penguin Feather with Air-Infused Hierarchical Rough Structures by Shuying Wang, Zhongjia Yang, Guangming Gong, Jingming Wang, Juntao Wu, Shunkun Yang, and Lei Jiang. J. Phys. Chem. C, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcc.5b12298 Publication Date (Web): February 3, 2016
Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society
This paper is behind a paywall.