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Nanoscience Uses Biomimicry. Copycat!. Nature has Some Amazing Nanoscience Feats …or Should We Say ‘Feets’. Studying the water strider’s nanogroovy setules on its toes has inspired scientists to design miniature aquatic devices and non-wetting materials.

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nature has some amazing nanoscience feats or should we say feets
Nature has Some Amazing Nanoscience Feats…or Should We Say ‘Feets’.

Studying the water strider’s nanogroovy setules on its toes has inspired scientists to design miniature aquatic devices and non-wetting materials.

Water strider leg hairs and grooves on one hair.

eight legged note pads
Eight-Legged Note Pads

Help, my pads

are stuck!

  • The strength of the suction in a spider’s foot is due to all of the small van der Waals forces at the nanoscale pulling at the same time.
  • So, why isn’t it stuck in one place? It lifts its leg so that the setules lift successively, not all at once.
  • This suggests to scientists that, in the future, super-strong Post-it® notes, modeled after the nanoscience of spider toes, will need to be pulled off very slowly, a little at a time.

My pads are stuck, too!

Hairy spider toes

Setules on hairs


I hope they invent that suit soon!

Using nanoscience and the van der Waals force, future Post-it® notes won’t just be strong, they’ll even stick if they got wet or greasy.

Imagine astronauts using the same idea for spacesuits that help them stick to the walls of a spacecraft,just like a spider on the ceiling."

clean as a
Clean as a…

SEM image of the polymer fibrillar adhesive fabricated at the NanoRobotics Laboratory, CMU

  • Gecko feet can stick to seemingly smooth surfaces thanks to nanoscale setules on their feet; and the setules are self cleaning.
  • This bonding capability is inspiring scientists to develop a synthetic adhesive that is both dry and self-cleaning.


a material stronger than steel and more elastic than nylon
A Material Stronger than Steeland More Elastic than Nylon?

For 450 million years, spiders have made silk, protein-based nanomaterials that self-assemble into fibers and sheets.  

  • If we figure out how to copy this nanscience feat, scientists would like to use the material to create an elevator to space.
  • Does that sound like a good idea to you?

color in butterfly wings
Color in Butterfly Wings

Butterfly wings are layers of nanoparticles seperated by layers of air. The thickness of the layers changes the colors that we see.

Butterfly wing scales in increasing magnitude

how do we mimic wing colors
How Do We Mimic Wing Colors?

The layered nanostructure of the butterfly wing inspires scientists to develop textiles by assembling nanoparticles into layers from the ‘bottom up’.

living led s
Living LED’s

Butterflies figured out how to emit light 30 million years ago.

Fluorescent patches on the wings of this African swallowtail butterflies work in a very similar way to high emission light emitting diodes (LEDs).

butterfly nanostructure inspiration
Butterfly Nanostructure Inspiration

These flourescent nanoscale polymer fibers might be used to reflect visible, UV and IR radiation for cooling or transmit certain wavelengths of light for warming.

They can also used for bar coding or other functions.

Depending on what you need, these nanoparticles might be made into flourescent proteins, DNA, viruses, or dyes. The ideas are endless!

If made into optical chemical or stress sensing nanofibers, they can be added into other materials and structures.

wings are colorful and hydrophobic
Wings are Colorful and Hydrophobic!

Look, Mom, I’m dry!

Notice the butterfly’s wing in the picture isn’t getting wet?

The butterfly can thank its lucky stars or, better yet, its nanoscales.

Water droplet

More information can be found on the web at .

Activities can be found at or


Or a Butterfly’s Wing!

This picture shows water droplets on a wood surface treated with "Lotus Spray“, a nanotechnology product modeled after the butterfly wing and lotus leaf, which has made the surface extremely water-repellant (superhydrophobic).

The white bar on this picture of a butterfly wing is 1mm long.

The white bar on this nanoscopic view of a butterfly wing is 1 µm.

As the Saying Goes…

“Like Water Off of a Duck’s Back…


Water droplet

…and Dirt Off of a Butterfly’s Wing!”

Besides repelling water (hydrophobic), the nanoscales make butterfly wings self-cleaning.

how these surfaces work
How These Surfaces Work

This magnified image shows the nanostructures on a wing surface. Because of the waxiness of the surface, the waterdrop rolls – rather than slides – down the surface with little friction. The drop collects dirt and bacteria on its way, and in effect cleans itself.

Nanostructures, (tiny waxy "spikes“), on the surface prevent a water droplet from reaching the underlying material. It rolls off the waxy tips which are very small compared to the water droplet.The force of the rolling water is greater than the force of attraction between the surface and dirt or bacteria which allows it to be washed away.

Because of the nanostructures on a butterfly wing or other hydrophobic surface, a waterdrop forms into a ball, rolling from the surface and taking the dirt with it.

Butterfly wing or super-hydrophobic surface

= water

= dirt


Science Copies Self-Cleaning Nanoproperties!

Scientists are copying this process with self cleaning hydrophobic micro-dots.

Since I can’t take a bath, it’s a good thing I’m self-cleaning!

An excellent video demonstrates how this works at

wouldn t it be nice if
Wouldn’t It Be Nice If…?

…more materials could be


water repellant?

Can you think of some?

nanoscience uses for bioluminescence
Nanoscience Uses for Bioluminescence
  • Biological imaging
  • Red is particularly useful because it can transmit through skin better than green light.

Detection of cancers

Measuring rate of cell multiplication

Pathogen detection

Tracing tumor growth

Food testing. Bacteria contain ATP that accelerates the firefly’s bioluminescence reaction. This makes it especially good for quickly detecting bacterial contamination in food.

Drug screening

squid lights
Squid Lights

Remember those squid belly nanoplatelets that reflect the light of bioluminescent bacteria?

Those Squid platelets inspire nanotechnologists to include such protein-based reflectors in optical nanodevices.

toucan beaks
Toucan Beaks
  • The nanostructure of toucan beaks inspires automotive panels that could protect passengers in crashes.
  • And inspires construction of ultralight aircraft components.


Thirsty people in Chile and Haiti go to ridgetops to collect fog on large sheets on ridgetops.

Living in the desert the thirsty Namib beetle collects dew to drink using nanodots on its back.

So What can Thirsty People Do?

But as we learn about nanoscience in nature…

we have nanotechnology solutions
We have Nanotechnology Solutions!
  • controlled drug release coatings,
  • open-air microchannel devices, and
  • lab-on-chip devices.

Scientists are modeling water harvesting surfaces after the Namib beetle’s nanotechnique.

You’re welcome!

The Namib Beetle’s design is also a model for other nanotechnology:

Patterned Superhydrophobic Surfaces: Toward a Synthetic Mimic of the Namib Desert BeetleLei Zhai, Michael C. Berg, Fevzi Ç. Cebeci, Yushan Kim, John M. Milwid, Michael F. Rubner, and Robert E. Cohen Nano Lett.; 2006;6(6) pp 1213 - 1217;


Can you think of interesting ways to use this nanoscience or to make it sound more appealing?

Don’t You Want to Mimic My Nanopowers?

It sounds like promising nanoscience. But, personally, I’m having a little trouble getting excited about smearing something called hipposudoric acid on my body!

Ok, hippo sweat is

-a sunscreen,


-and antibacterial.

nanoscience biomimicry
Nanoscience Biomimicry
  • We’ve looked at ways scientists are attempting to mimic the wonders of nanoscience in nature:
  • sticky “feet”
    • strong spider silk
  • self-cleaning light reflecting butterfly wings
  • optical nanoscience
  • water collecting beetle backs
  • tough and light toucan beaks
  • and the list could go on and on.
your superpower idea
Your SuperPower Idea

Now it is your turn to delve into the world of superheros and supervillains.

These ideas have been copied and modified by science fiction and cartoonists for decades.

SuperHippo to the rescue!

Take a nanoscience idea from nature.

Create a superbeing or supertool that has a special power based on this nanoscience idea.

Develop a visual aid and presentation to share with the class.

superpower or nanopower copycats
Superpower or Nanopower Copycats?

Spiderman uses the nanoscience of spider silk. Is this the only way that Spidey uses nanoscience?

What other superheros could be using some of these nanoscience ideas to achieve their feats?

A database of biomimicry may help you find ideas. The following database includes some examples of mimicry that are NOT nanoscale so be careful to select an idea that is based in nanoscience.

If you don’t feel you are ready to start on your project yet and want more clarification or help. Click here for five more slides.