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Insect-eating plant inspires water repellent material

James C Weaver and Peter Allen

This is an illustration showing a schematic of slippery surface and its characteristics of repelling many fluids present on the earth, as symbolized by the earth reflected on the liquid drop.

After a rain, ants, spiders and little frogs find the sweet-smelling pitcher plant irresistible, but the attraction is fatal. The tube-shaped leaves are so slippery that the creatures slide to the bottom where they are devoured by digestive juices.

Inspired by this material in nature's bag of tricks, researchers have created what is being deemed one of the world's most slippery materials, named SLIPS for slippery liquid infused porous surfaces.


The material repels just about any type of liquid, including blood and oil, in conditions ranging from super high pressures to freezing cold temperatures. Potential applications include anti-icing technologies, self-cleaning windows, improved optical devices and pipes for transporting oil.

It could also be used to coat the inside of a jar of jam or ketchup, ending the frustration of trying to get the last drop out, Joanna Aizenberg, a materials scientist at Harvard University who led the research effort, told The Telegraph.

"It is a problem we all face — we have a bottle of sauce and we are trying to get the last bit out but nothing is happening," she told the newspaper. "If we used substance like ours to coat the inside of bottles, it would be possible to get it all out."

To make the material, she and colleagues studied how the leaves of the pitcher plant work — they have a spongy texture filled with water, creating a surface that repels the oily feet of insects — and created a nano/microstructured material filled with a lubricating fluid.

"Like the pitcher plant, SLIPS are slippery for insects, but they are now designed to do much more: they repel a wide variety of liquids and solids," Aizenberg said in a news release.

Check out the video below to see how SLIPS works as a self-cleaning material.

This is an example of the self-cleaning quality of Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surface (SLIPS).

[Via PopSci and The Telegraph]

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Findings were published Sept. 22 in the journal Nature.

John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.

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