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May 9, 2016

Engineering slick solutions for sticky problems


Slick surfaces in nature are inspiring a new class of materials that could help society address some of the grand challenges of the 21st century

The natural world has many tricks to teach us about efficiency and design. Take the carnivorous pitcher plant: its super slippery surface acts like a slide for unsuspecting ants that can't stop themselves from sliding right into the plant and becoming dinner. A mechanical engineer at Penn State University is using the pitcher plant as inspiration for a range of new materials that could one day solve some of society's stickiest problems.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Tak-Sing Wong and his team are developing materials known as slippery-liquid infused porous surfaces, or SLIPS. They can be made of liquid Teflon™ and chemically customized for different applications, such as bio-compatible for medical devices or highly durable for the hull of a ship. Wong says the possibilities are endless, from keeping walls clear of graffiti to keeping aircraft free of ice.

His long-term goal is to address some of the grand challenges in the 21st century in the areas of water, energy and health.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1351462, Nature's Mix and Match: Designing Omniphobic Surfaces with Multi-Functional Characteristics, funded by the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Marsha Walton, Science Nation Producer


Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.