Materials in nature have undergone millions of years of evolution, so they are often very good indeed at serving their purpose. A research group at Harvard University is taking inspiration from the experience and expertise of nature by developing new materials inspired by biological materials and processes. This video takes you inside the The Aizenberg Biomineralization and Biomimetics Lab based at the university to meet some of the scientists and see the products they are developing.
“Only materials that have exceptional superior properties will survive, and these are the natural structures that we see and study today,” says group leader Joanna Aizenberg. “What I want to do is to create new materials, different materials, not exactly the same as nature has evolved.”
One example of this bio-inspired approach to engineering is a product known as a slippery liquid-infused porous surface, or SLIPS for short. In the film, Aizenberg and her research students explain how SLIPS was inspired by the lubricated surfaces of the Nepenthes pitcher plant, which is slippery in order to trap insects. The SLIPS technology has potential applications such as slippery coatings for pipelines that can transport oil at high speeds and efficiencies.
In this second short film, group member Natalie Koay demonstrates another product known as W-ink. The coating – inspired by the brilliant blue structural colour of the morpho butterfly – can be used in a range of products such as liquid identification in the food and beverage industry, and message encryption. Koay also demonstrates how W-ink could lead to a range of novelty products such as a dipstick for testing the alcoholic strength of a drink.