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Cleanliness in a Drop of Dew

June 5th, 2015

Cleanliness in a Drop of Dew

Most of us think of bugs as dirty, so it may come as a surprise to discover the incredible secret life of the self-cleaning cicada.  Not only are they adept at using water, it doesn’t even penetrate beyond the bug’s surface but “jumps” off its host, taking dirt and grime with it!

Grooming is not an easy matter for this delicate bug, as the cicada has shortened limbs and cannot clean themselves like a cat (or human) might.  They face an additional challenge when it comes to cleanliness, often living in climates with long stretches of arid months.

Researchers have filmed these bugs, using a special high-speed video imaging system, to reveal that tiny water droplets merge and, using stored surface energy, bound off the cicadas’ wings.  The wings are called “superhydrophobic” as they repel water as a matter of course.

“Self-cleaning surfaces using the jumping-drop mechanism can work at any orientation, which is a huge advantage for applications with unfavorable orientations with respect to gravity, such as mobile electronics and building roofs,” said Dr Chuan-Hua Chen, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering.

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