Carnivorous pitcher plants are one inspiration for super-hydrophobic surfaces

The integration of engineered hydrophobic surfaces in everyday life is all around us: Teflon cookware in the kitchen, Rain-X in windshield wipers, and NanoDrop at the bench (hint: the sample pedestal coating). Unfortunately, there is much to be desired regarding the attributes of even the best industrially marketed treatments. One major challenge is that many of these surfaces have poor anti-fouling properties, are not optically transparent, and do not repel low-temperature and oily liquids. This technological dearth has broad impacts, from the medical industry to aeronautics. While it may seem like the Gore-Tex on your winter jacket is working just fine, there are a series of demanding applications that require an extra level of resilience to bacterial films. For instance, bacterial infections from medical catheters remain a leading cause of complications for chemotherapy patients due to tubes that provide insufficient protection from bacterial growth.

Last week in Nature,  the Varanasi group at MIT reported a new superhydrophobic material that has the potential to make surfaces drier than ever before. The scientists at MIT were inspired by the microscopic ridges present in the leaves of the the nasturtium plant to develop a robust superhydrophobic mesh that is capable of quickly repelling water and even molten metal. Read on to explore the world of wettability and the remarkable biology that inspire these technologies.