Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. are taking a cue from insects that use water droplets to wash dirt and pollutants from their bodies to improve the self-cleaning capabilities of self-cleaning devices.

The research team aimed to mimic the surfaces of self-cleaning insects like cicadas and geckos, and plants like the lotus plant that feature waxy surfaces, wherein water droplets will form, jump and eventually fall, taking contaminants with them.

Water droplet lifts contaminant from cicada's wings. Source: Dr. Sreehari PerumanathWater droplet lifts contaminant from cicada's wings. Source: Dr. Sreehari Perumanath

To mimic such mechanisms, particularly those in cicada wings, the researchers used computer simulations driven by the supercomputer ARCHER2, which determined that pollutants could be removed from surfaces via approaches that are dependent upon on the forces of attraction occurring between the water droplets, the contaminant and the molecules present on the surface of the insect's wings.

The researchers suggest that in the event the force of the water droplet is stronger than the force that pins the contaminant to the surface, the pollutant will subsequently be absorbed by the droplet, and then will roll or jump off the cicada's wings, taking the contaminant with it.

Further, the researchers suggest that several droplets that join together will create a so-called lifting force capable of catapulting contaminants off the cicada wings.

The study reportedly reveals how surfaces could potentially be passively decontaminated without the aid of a power source. Additionally, the team suggests these findings could one day be applied to future self-cleaning devices such as coatings for solar panels, car windshields and biosensors.

The study, Contaminant Removal from Nature's Self-Cleaning Surfaces, is published in the journal Nano Letters.

To contact the author of this article, email