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Slick Pitcher Plants

October 18, 2011

The specialized leaves of carnivorous pitcher plants are inspiring the next generation of super-slick materials.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Stealing ideas from nature…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The slippery leaves of carnivorous pitcher plants keep hapless insects and other prey from crawling to safety.

JOANNA AIZENBERG (Harvard University):

The surface that they evolved has a microstructure that traps a water layer, so the insect is hydroplaning inside the pitcher plant the moment it steps on this water layer.

HIRSHON:

That’s Harvard materials chemist Joanna Aizenberg. Her team has now re-created the structure and properties of the plant in the laboratory. She says this nature-inspired synthetic coating could have many industrial and medical uses, from de-icing airplanes to preventing blood clots.

AIZENBERG:

Unwanted liquid surface interactions are a limiting factor nearly everywhere where liquid is handled or encountered. We really pretty much decided to steal from nature, but improve a little bit on the components.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.