Home / Press Release / New material can collect water out of thin air (+Video)

New material can collect water out of thin air (+Video)

There are many organisms lives in such harsh environments where normal organisms can’s survive. Nature has given them their own strength and technique to live in such arid environments. Now, a few of such organisms have inspired scientists to create something extraordinary. Researchers from Harvard University have invented a new material that could pull water droplets out of thin air.

Scientists have created the new material inspired by the mechanisms of desert beetle’s bumps on its shell, slippery surfaces of pitcher plants and V-shaped cactus spines which directs the water droplets towards its body. The invention is said to be a breakthrough in the war against growing water crisis around the world.

The material to promote and transport condensed water droplets is developed by a team of researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Joanna Aizenberg, the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at SEAS and core faculty member of the Wyss Institute, said in a statement:

“Everybody is excited about bioinspired materials research. However, so far, we tend to mimic one inspirational natural system at a time. Our research shows that a complex bio-inspired approach, in which we marry multiple biological species to come up with non-trivial designs for highly efficient materials with unprecedented properties, is a new, promising direction in biomimetics.”

The new material uses the mechanism of the natural systems of cacti, desert beetle and pitcher plants to pull the water from the environment and guide the flow of condensed water droplets to collect it. Scientists have also used Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces technology (SLIPS) developed in Aizenberg’s lab, in developing the material

Philseok Kim, co-author of the paper and co-founder and vice president of technology at SEAS spin-off SLIPS Technologies, Inc., said in a statement:

“Thermal power plants, for example, rely on condensers to quickly convert steam to liquid water. This design could help speed up that process and even allow for operation at a higher temperature, significantly improving the overall energy efficiency.”
The major challenges in harvesting atmospheric water are controlling the size of the droplets, speed in which they form and the direction in which they flow.

For years, researchers focused on the hybrid chemistry of the beetle’s bumps — a hydrophilic top with hydrophobic surroundings — to explain how the beetle attracted water. However, Aizenberg and her team took inspiration from a different possibility – that convex bumps themselves also might be able to harvest water.

“We experimentally found that the geometry of bumps alone could facilitate condensation,” said Kyoo-Chul Park, a postdoctoral researcher and the first author of the paper. “By optimizing that bump shape through detailed theoretical modeling and combining it with the asymmetry of cactus spines and the nearly friction-free coatings of pitcher plants, we were able to design a material that can collect and transport a greater volume of water in a short time compared to other surfaces.”

“Without one of those parameters, the whole system would not work synergistically to promote both the growth and accelerated directional transport of even small, fast condensing droplets,” said Park.

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