Looking for the next generation of Teflon? Just take inspiration from Nepenthes. Tak-Sing Wong, professor of engineering at The Pennsylvania State University explains how our favorite tropical pitcher plants inspired a new material, “SLIPS” or Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surface with applications across the board.
In the video above, Professor Wong dissects the physical properties of a Nepenthes peristome and how, when wet, miscroscopic grooves collect a thin layer of oil-repellent water. All of this adds up to a surface that combats adhesion and creates what is, essentially, an insect slip-and-slide. Professor Wong aimed to mimic this slick surface in the lab, ultimately creating SLIPS, a porous material infused with a water or oil-based lubricant.
Applications of SLIPS include medical uses to prevent blood clots, bacterial accumulation on sterile surfaces (up to 96-99.6% effective), and detection of molecule presence within evaporated liquids.
A modified version the material called Slippery Rough Surface is being tested and refined for harvesting water from humidity naturally found in air, and collects approximately 10 times more water than just SLIPS, alone.
LESS, or Liquid Entrenched Smooth Surface is a material designed for application in toilets (I’m looking at you, Nepenthes lowii) to reduce up to 90% of water usage – even for number 2 scenarios. Yes, there is a demonstration of this in the video. No, it does not use authentic test “materials.”
Biomimicry is the modeling of synthetic materials and systems after biological processes. Professor Wong seems to be nailing this concept using Nepenthes, and with so many fascinating and complex mechanisms in the world of carnivorous plants, there’s no lack of inspiration for materials that can better humanity.