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What do the outer shells of airplanes, automobile paint and shampoo bottles have in common? Models from nature! Not that shampoo grows on trees or birds' colorful plumage is only painted on – but nature provides the template for a very specific scientific specialty: bionics. One of the best known representatives of this branch of science is the lotus effect. From frying pans to cars, clothing and umbrellas – there are innumerable products that boast the ability to cause dirt and water to simply form droplets and slide off.

The model for this characteristic is the lotus plant, whose surface exhibits a similar effect. Industry has been using the man-made version in all kinds of materials since the 1990s – and continues to improve upon it. For example, dirt does not simply form droplets and slide off of a surface in the Duke University research laboratory in North Carolina. When they come into contact with water, particles literally jump off so that the material cleans itself .

Poison dart frogs as a model

A very similar approach, although much more specific, is applied by researchers at Arizona State University .

Poison dart frogs, which have various glands on their skin, serve as the model here. Some of these glands moisten their skin, others release poison to keep predators at bay. The researchers are using this principle to keep aircraft ice-free.

Cold rain simply rebounds from the upper layer. In conditions of high humidity and low temperatures, condensed water would turn to frost and ice. This is prevented by a second layer that absorbs antifreeze and releases it to the upper layer. A promising invention that could find applications in the automotive industry as well.

From nature to industry

Networks such as the Landshut University of Applied Sciences lightweight construction cluster and the IVAM Microtechnology Network are working on bringing these types of development to industrial products. The cluster's companies, research institutes and service providers are exhibiting their developments at HANNOVER MESSE, particularly in the fields of lightweight construction materials and manufacturing technologies .

Nature's surface models are not just of interest to business. Examples of good uses of nanotechnology and bionics can be found in our everyday lives. Such as in emptying out shampoo bottles. The last drops that remain in the packaging no matter how much you squeeze and shake are not just annoying to consumers, but harmful to the environment. Someday shampoo bottles could empty themselves completely thanks to a special coating.

Down to the last drop

A shampoo producer has contracted with researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus to develop a method for releasing those last stubborn drops: Microscopically tiny nanoparticles form a pattern on the inner surface that does not allow fluids to adhere. So the lotus effect works on the inside as well.

Wherever smart materials are used, they make technology less complex and thus more reliable and maintainable: Their benefit is obvious, their future potential enormous. At HANNOVER MESSE , experts from business and the economy come together to lay the groundwork for visionary products and applications. Look forward into the future with them at Research & Technology , the leading global trade show for research, development and technology transfer.