Meat-Eating Pitcher Plant Inspires Self-Cleaning ‘Super Glass’

There’s nothing like a little biomimicry to get the creative juices flowing. Researchers at Harvard University recently discovered that the carnivorous pitcher plant may have a lot to teach us about making glass. In fact, they claim that by taking a few tips from this meat-eating plant, we could create super glass that can’t become dirty–an invention that would have significant benefits to the solar panel industry.

To create this super glass, researchers coated a glass honeycomb-like structure with a Teflon-like chemical that binds to the honeycomb cells to form a stable liquid film. They were inspired by the pitcher plant, which lures insects onto the ultraslippery surface of its leaves, where they slide to their doom. The result of the coated-glass research is much less morbid, I promise.

Pitcher Plant Super Glass Collage

Images via mary-claire and Nicolas Vogel, Harvard Wyss Institute

According to a Harvard press release, the new coating builds on an award-winning technology previously pioneered by Joanna Aizenberg, Ph.D., a Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, called Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces (SLIPS)–the slipperiest synthetic surface currently known.

The new, pitcher-plant inspired coating is equally slippery, but with the added bonus of being more durable and fully transparent. “The super-glass is so slippery that it even repels oil, and super-sticky materials such as honey — as well as resisting ice formation and the growth of bacterial biofilms,” reports CleanTechnica.

This could be very good news for photovoltaic solar panels, which can often become dirty or covered with snow and ice, diminishing their power-generating properties as well as efficiency.

The researchers were also able to apply the SLIPS-like coating to glass slides in a pattern that confines liquid to specific areas — an ability that’s important for various lab-on-a-chip applications and medical diagnostics.

“The team is now honing its method to better coat curved pieces of glass as well as clear plastics such as Plexiglas, and to adapt the method for the rigors of manufacturing”, reports the release.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog