for National Geographic News
The lotus leaf, better known as the water lily, is considered sacred in Asian religions for its ability to stay dry and clean. When water drops on the leaf, it beads up and rolls off the waxy surface, washing away dirt as it goes.
In religious circles, this characteristic makes the lotus leaf a symbol of purity. Scientists, too, have long praised the plant for its water-resistant and self-cleaning properties. For years they have tried to mimic its structure.
Many have met success in this endeavor using complex processes and expensive materials. A team of Turkish researchers report in the February 28 issue of the journal Science that they were successful in mimicking the lotus leaf on the cheap.
The procedure, accomplished by Levent Demirel, a professor of chemistry at Koç University in Istanbul, and Yildirim Erbil, Yonca Avci, and Olcay Mert, of Kocaeli University in Izmit, could make highly waterproof materials available for common applications.
One such use, explain the Turkish researchers, would be a coating for radio car antennas that would keep them ice- and snow-free, and thus functional, for the commute into work on a cold winter morning.
Such a highly-waterproof material could potentially be applied to airplane wings (to keep them from icing up), the hulls of ships (to help them ply waters more easily), and clothing (to keep them dry).
"We mimicked nature to find a simple solution for a difficult technological problem," the researchers conclude in their paper.
Wilhelm Barthlott, a botanist at the University of Bonn in Germany who discovered how lotus leaves repel water and are self-cleaning in 1997, said: "The results of the science paper are marvelous."
Angles, Fears, and Roughness
Setting aside all scientific and journalistic caution for the moment, if the Turkish researchers walked into a bar in Toughtown, U.S.A. and tried to explain their work, one speculates they might say something along the lines of:
"Basically, we made a really, really waterproof substance by tossing a material just like your dirty, synthetic long underwear into a vat of chemicals, adding heat, and cooking it until it dissolved. Then we poured it on some glass where it hardened into a material that is just as waterproof as a pretty little water lily."
Talking amongst their scientific colleagues, however, the Turkish team explains their breakthrough in language punctuated phobias (fears), angles, and roughness.
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