Imitating the morphology of animals and plants for improving materials

Scientists in the European project LiNaBioFluid have researched the microstructures that give amazing qualities to animals and plants. These microstructures can be reproduced by laser on several materials to overcome technological issues. Now, a new project, will implement some of the results copying vegetal morphologies on natural stones to protect them and extend its lifetime.

The lotus flower has hydrophobic properties because of its micro pillars, which have a complex nanostructure.Due to their skin morphology, some geckos living in extremely dry places are capable of harvesting moisture and transport the fluid towards the snout, to drink. This is an outstanding and efficient solution provided by natural evolution for survival in extreme conditions.

Another example is the adherence of gecko’s feet, which enable them to stick and walk on walls and ceilings. Another example are bark bugs that have super-wettable body surface due to its capillaries out of which water spreads onto plain areas of the bug (that’s the reason why they get darker when it rains).

Biomimetics is the science that copy natural solutions to solve technological issues. This has been the goal of scientists in the European project LiNaBioFluid, funded by EU with more than 3Milion Euros. Seven research institutions from Greece, Germany, Spain and Austria, have been involved. The scientists have been studying different examples like the morphology of reptiles skin, leafs or insects, and how to reproduce their morphologies by laser processes on different materials.

Highly lubricated metals patented

“The morphology that makes the gecko’s skin a ‘hyperflowing’ surface can be applied to make oil to better flow on a surface and obtaining therefore highly lubricated devices with only a small amount of oil”, says Jan Siegel, a CSIC scientist.

“Changing the surface morphology of a material we can also obtain a change in other properties, such as colour, adherence, friction or electric conductivity. Technological applications are countless and can be found in very diverse fields such as mechanical engineering, optics, biology, medicine and electronics”, says Jan Siegel.

He's a member of the Laser Processes team at the CSIC’s Instituto de Óptica. His groups has studied how to reproduce with laser these micro morphologies on different materials: metal, semiconductors, polymers or even natural stone.

As a first result, a process for creating a morphology on steel, which would made the material hyperflowing (fast capillary transport) and super wettable, has been patented. The patent holders are the Spanish CSIC and the Greek Foundation for Research and Technology–Hellas. The obtained material has a surface with very low friction, which enhances wettability and the distribution of lubricant. The retention of oil increases up to 92%, even when the material is centrifugated at 3000 rpm for two hours.

A new project for improving natural stone

Now, the scientists will develop a new project with a Spanish company, Levantina, a manufacturer of natural stone. The goal is to give marble properties from two plant species, the lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera) and the carnivorous plant Nepenthes alatasus.

The lotus flower has hydrophobic properties because of its micro pillars, which have a complex nanostructure. On the other hand, the carnivorous plant has a low adhesion on its surface. By imitating these morphologies scientists will obtain a stone surface with both properties and, therefore, a stone that repeals external substances that could be damaging. They hope the stone will last longer and that the use of sealants or the need of tiles replacement will be avoided.

“We expect we will extend the lifetime of natural stone products and that sealants, which often are chemically irritant or corrosive, could be replaced by smart functional morphologies on the material surface. Thus will contribute to environmental sustainability”, says Jan Siegel.

The BioProMarL Project is funded by European Comission with 100.000 Euros until 2021, within the FET program (Future and Emerging Technologies), which is focused on projects aimed at creating breakthrough technologies.


Patricia Thomas Vielma
Vicepresidencia Adjunta de Transferencia
del Conocimiento CSIC
Tel.: +34 91 568 18 25
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