Nanotechnology and the animal kingdom

Nanotechnology and the animal kingdom

We found a very entertaining article on look4forward.co.uk titled ‘7 of the most amazing ways animals use nanotechnology‘ that we thought would be good to share with you.

Animals are intriguing beautiful creatures that continue to amaze us. The spoon-shaped bird beaks to the arching giraffe’s neck to gigantic beetle claws, is an example of the plethora of different features animals possess and their evolution, but now we can also ponder on how they use nanotechnology.

1. Invisible Eyes

If we take a closer look at the Robber Fly, we will be amazed to find the surface of its eye ‘studded with an array of nanoscale protuberances know as the corneal nipples’. This important feature ranges from 50 to 300 nanometre in size and its purpose is to help the insect camouflage. These tiny bumps help break up the cornea’s even surface, helping to reduce glare that reflects off the eye and in turn protect the insect’s presence from nearby predators.

German scientists in 2010 also discovered that the corneal nipples function to ‘keep pollen grains, dust particles, and other microscopic particles out of the insect’s eye’.

Solar cells have been inspired by this moth’s nanoscale eye surface pattern for anti-reflective coating.

2. Dazzling Wings

The wondrous butterfly has wings that has nanostructures in it, causing the shimmering colours we see. ‘The scales on a butterfly’s wings are patterned with nanoscale channels, ridges, and cavities made of a protein called chitin.’ These nanostructures are shaped in a way to bend and scatter light, causing the colour change we see when viewing its wings from different perspectives.

‘The heat in the form of radiations make the chitin nanostructure expand and change their shapes, which gives rise to the colour display. Using this technology, the hypersensitive thermal imaging sensors, useful for night vision, are being worked upon by the researchers. They are apparently coating the wings of a Blue Morpho butterfly with carbon nanotubes that magnify the effect. This makes the insect a sensor, which changes color when its temperature changes a mere 1/25th of a degree.’

3. Flashy Feathers

The small penguin Eudyptula minor found in Australia and New Zealand uses nanotechnology for cosmetic purposes. They wear a tuxedo of dark blue feathers, where the blue colour is produced by the bundles of parallel nanofibres that scatter light. This was discovered by the University of Akron in Ohio. The fibres are about 180 nanometres wide and are made of a protein similar to Beta Keratin while others are made of collagen.

4. Solar Powered Bugs

The oriental hornet gets busy building nests underground when it’s the sunniest, comparatively to other wasps who are busy in the morning and slow down later due to the sun’s heat. This is because the oriental hornet possesses a kind of solar cell that has nanostructures in the insect’s exoskeleton, used to harvest light energy.

‘Apparently in the abdomen section of the Hornet, there are grooves of about 160 nanometres high, that trap the light and bounce to the cuticle. Also, the yellow sections absorb light, which are interlocking protrusions about 50 nanometres high.’ According to researchers, xanthopterin can ‘convert light into electricity, the pigment that gives it its yellow colour’. No wonder they are the busiest when it’s the sunniest.

5. Slippery Skin

Snakes such as the Ball Pythons slither very smoothly, all due to the complex interaction of muscle movement and small-scale physics. ‘The scales on a snake’s belly are covered in minuscule hair called microfibrils that are around 400 nanometres wide or less, pointing towards the tail and their ends are raised about 200 nanometres off the skin, helping the snake in a smooth glide. Also, the extra friction helps prevent sideways slipping, when on an inclined surface.’

6. Nanotech Toes

Tokay gecko has its feet covered in microscopic hair called setae, which help it to stick to trees, walls, windows and ceilings. This hair ‘further branch into thousands of smaller hair with paddle-shaped ends, called spatulae, 200 nanometres wide at the tip.’ The large surface area of the spatulae increases the effect of van der Waals forces, helping the gecko hang its whole weight from just one toe.

Researchers are inspired by this and are on their way to create super-sticky tapes, glues and even wall-climbing robots using carbon nanotubes.

7. Super Tough Silk

Spider silks are designed to withstand strong winds and catch insects without tearing to bits, and are claimed to be even stronger than steel. ‘Thin crystal proteins only nanometres wide, stacked together like pancakes, strengthen the silks.’ When looked at from an atomic level, the layers are stuck together by Hydrogen bonds ‘that pull apart and reform, allowing the silk to stretch and flex under pressure.’

Italian scientists claim to have found the stretchiest silk in the egg sac of Meta menardi, the European cave spider.

To read the source article, click here.

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