The Namib Desert in Africa is one of the driest places on earth -- it gets less than an inch of rainfall every year. Yet the Namib Desert beetle thrives there.
Put some spinners on this one and it's ready to cruise.
That's because a fog rolls in off of the Atlantic Ocean on most mornings. The beetle will stand facing the wind, using its hind legs to prop itself up to a 45-degree angle, and then let the tiny water droplets collect on its back. The condensation builds until it rolls down to its mouth for a nice morning drink. It seems like a simple but elegant solution to drought, the sort of thing a bug would come up with.
Only, it's not so simple.
How We Can Steal It:
Worldwide, 884 million people lack access to a safe water source. It would sure be nice to harvest fog and turn it into drinking water for them, but our attempts to do so thus far have kind of sucked. One fog harvester near Chungungo, Chile, gathers 4,000 gallons of water a day by using nets to collect condensation, but there's nothing stopping the wind from evaporating the water or blowing it clean off the nets before it can be collected.
Plus, people keep getting too close to the net when they spike the ball.
So researchers have come up with a better idea using the same technology that the Namib Desert beetle uses. It turns out there are tiny bumps on the beetle's back that are a naturally hydrophilic surface. Much like a necrophiliac is attracted to dead people, a hydrophilic substance attracts water. But then the rest of the beetle's back is hydrophobic -- meaning it repels water. So once the droplets get too big to hang onto the water-collecting bumps, they detach and roll down the beetle's back before the heat and wind can steal the water away.
To replicate this, researchers took small beads of glass that attract water and covered their bases in a layer of water-repellant wax. As a result, they were able to capture water out of the air just like the Namib Desert beetle. They hope that this discovery will lead to more permanent and stable panels in order to not just help gather water, but also for dissipating fog. This would be extremely helpful at places like the airports in, say, San Francisco, where flights are commonly delayed because of weather.
If you've ever watched a moth stupidly slamming into a light bulb over and over again, you probably thought that this was one species that really didn't have much to teach us.
But because moths are so shitty in so many ways, their eyes really have to be something special. Being both fragile and stupid, moths' only hope of avoiding the many predators who eat them at night is to be able to see better than they do. They accomplish this by having extremely antireflective eyes.
So that you can't see their equally black souls.
Light that is reflected off the eye is lost information, and even the smallest piece of information can mean the difference between survival and death. Moth eyes are designed to take in as much light as possible and, as such, are one of the least reflective surfaces found in nature.
There is nothing simple about how the moth accomplishes this -- their eyes are coated with nanoscopic structures (that is, smaller than microscopic) that are perfectly designed to keep light waves from bouncing off.
Nothing can escape their horrific gravity-crushing gaze.
How We Can Steal It:
Two words: solar panels.
The problem with solar panels now is that they are expensive and aren't very efficient. The panels are highly reflective, which is the exact opposite of what you want in a device designed to absorb light. Just like light reflected off the eye is lost information, any glare or reflection on a solar panel is lost energy.
In order to reduce this glare, researchers were able to "... nanoimprint the microstructure of moth's eyes into acrylic resin ... using anodic porous alumina molds." Which is just technical speak meaning they made a film that duplicates the antireflective properties of moth eyes. The result is an inexpensive roll of film you can stick over any solar panel and immediately boost its efficiency by 5 or 6 percent. That doesn't sound like much, but you have to keep in mind that modern solar panels only operate at 5 to 18 percent efficiency, and the moth's eye film is an easy upgrade.
That's why the Cracked offices run on diesel.
Meanwhile, other researchers are finding ways to use the tech on everything from antireflective coatings for monitors and eyeglasses to fiber optics, semiconductors and more.
Keep this in mind: To mimic the surface, scientists had to use a focused ion beam to etch the tiny details at a nanoscopic level. Or, to quote one researcher, "... the nanoscopic structures on the lens surfaces had to be smaller than the wavelength of light so as to smooth out the sharp refractive index change as the light strikes the surface ..." That's what it took to imitate what can be found on every moth you've ever crushed under a rolled-up magazine.
For more things you didn't know about animals, check out 6 Creepy Animal Behaviors That Science Can't Explain. And find out what you were wrong about in The 6 Most Frequently Quoted Bullshit Animal Facts.
And stop by Linkstorm because it's Friday and you gotta get down on Friday.
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