Soft robotic actuators offer many advantages over their rigid counterparts, but they often are unable to apply highly localized point loads. In contrast, many invertebrates have not only evolved extremely strong ‘‘hybrid appendages’’ that are composed of rigid ends that can grasp, puncture, and anchor into solid substrates, but they also are compliant and resilient, owing to the functionally graded architecture that integrates rigid termini with their flexible and highly extensible soft musculatures. Inspired by the design principles of these natural hybrid appendages, we demonstrate a synthetic hybrid end effector for soft-bodied robots that exhibits excellent piercing abilities. Through the incorporation of functionally graded interfaces, this design strategy minimizes stress concentrations at the junctions adjoining the fully rigid and soft components and optimizes the bending stiffness to effectively penetrate objects without interfacial failure under shear and compressive loading re- gimes. In this composite architecture, the radially aligned tooth-like elements apply balanced loads to maximize puncturing ability, resulting in the coordinated fracture of an object of interest.
Mussels are opportunistic macrofouling organisms that can attach to most immersed solid surfaces, leading to serious economic and ecological consequences for the maritime and aquaculture industries. We demonstrate that lubricant-infused coatings exhibit very low preferential mussel attachment and ultralow adhesive strengths under both controlled laboratory conditions and in marine field studies. Detailed investigations across multiple length scales—from the molecular-scale characterization of deposited adhesive proteins to nanoscale contact mechanics to macroscale live observations—suggest that lubricant infusion considerably reduces fouling by deceiving the mechanosensing ability of mussels, deterring secretion of adhesive threads, and decreasing the molecular work of adhesion. Our study demonstrates that lubricant infusion represents an effective strategy to mitigate marine biofouling and provides insights into the physical mechanisms underlying adhesion prevention.
A mechanically tunable macroscale replica of the gyroid photonic crystal found in the Parides sesostris butterfly's wing scales is systematically characterized. By monitoring both photonic frequency changes and the distribution of stress fields within the compressed structure, electromagnetic transmission features are found and can be frequency-tuned and the structure only contains localized high stress fields when highly compressed.
Controlling dropwise condensation is fundamental to water-harvesting systems, desalination, thermal power generation, air conditioning, distillation towers, and numerous other applications. For any of these, it is essential to design surfaces that enable droplets to grow rapidly and to be shed as quickly as possible. However, approaches based on microscale, nanoscale or molecular-scale textures suffer from intrinsic trade-offs that make it difficult to optimize both growth and transport at once. Here we present a conceptually different design approach—based on principles derived from Namib desert beetles, cacti, and pitcher plants—that synergistically combines these aspects of condensation and substantially outperforms other synthetic surfaces. Inspired by an unconventional interpretation of the role of the beetle’s bumpy surface geometry in promoting condensation, and using theoretical modelling, we show how to maximize vapour diffusion flux at the apex of convex millimetric bumps by optimizing the radius of curvature and cross-sectional shape. Integrating this apex geometry with a widening slope, analogous to cactus spines, directly couples facilitated droplet growth with fast directional transport, by creating a free-energy profile that drives the droplet down the slope before its growth rate can decrease. This coupling is further enhanced by a slippery, pitcher-plant-inspired nanocoating that facilitates feedback between coalescence-driven growth and capillary-driven motion on the way down. Bumps that are rationally designed to integrate these mechanisms are able to grow and transport large droplets even against gravity and overcome the effect of an unfavourable temperature gradient. We further observe an unprecedented sixfold-higher exponent of growth rate, faster onset, higher steady-state turnover rate, and a greater volume of water collected compared to other surfaces. We envision that this fundamental understanding and rational design strategy can be applied to a wide range of water-harvesting and phase-change heat-transfer applications.
Many species rely on diverse selections of entirely organic photonic structures for the manipulation of light and the display of striking colours. Here we report the discovery of a mineralized hierarchical photonic architecture embedded within the translucent shell of the blue-rayed limpet Patella pellucida. The bright colour of the limpet’s stripes originates from light interference in a periodically layered zig-zag architecture of crystallographically co-oriented calcite lamellae. Beneath the photonic multilayer, a disordered array of light-absorbing particles provides contrast for the blue colour. This unique mineralized manifestation of a synergy of two distinct optical elements at specific locations within the continuum of the limpet’s translucent protective shell ensures the vivid shine of the blue stripes, which can be perceived under water from a wide range of viewing angles. The stripes’ reflection band coincides with the spectral range of minimal light absorption in sea water, raising intriguing questions regarding their functional significance.
To adapt to a wide range of physically demanding environmental conditions, biological systems have evolved a diverse variety of robust skeletal architectures. One such example, Euplectella aspergillum, is a sediment-dwelling marine sponge that is anchored into the sea floor by a flexible holdfast apparatus consisting of thousands of anchor spicules (long, hair-like glassy fibers). Each spicule is covered with recurved barbs and has an internal architecture consisting of a solid core of silica surrounded by an assembly of coaxial silica cylinders, each of which is separated by a thin organic layer. The thickness of each silica cylinder progressively decreases from the spicule’s core to its periphery, which we hypothesize is an adaptation for redistributing internal stresses, thus increasing the overall strength of each spicule. To evaluate this hypothesis, we created a spicule structural mechanics model, in which we fixed the radii of the silica cylinders such that the force transmitted from the surface barbs to the remainder of the skeletal system was maximized. Compared with measurements of these parameters in the native sponge spicules, our modeling results correlate remarkably well, highlighting the beneficial nature of this elastically heterogeneous lamellar design strategy. The structural principles obtained from this study thus provide potential design insights for the fabrication of high-strength beams for load-bearing applications through the modification of their internal architecture, rather than their external geometry.
Inspired by the long-term effectiveness of living antifouling materials, we have developed a method for the self- replenishment of synthetic biofouling-release surfaces. These surfaces are created by either molding or directly embedding 3D vascular systems into polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and filling them with a silicone oil to generate a nontoxic oil- infused material. When replenished with silicone oil from an outside source, these materials are capable of self-lubrication and continuous renewal of the interfacial fouling-release layer. Under accelerated lubricant loss conditions, fully infused vascularized samples retained significantly more lubricant than equivalent nonvascularized controls. Tests of lubricant-infused PDMS in static cultures of the infectious bacteria Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli as well as the green microalgae Botryococcus braunii, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Dunaliella salina, and Nannochloropsis oculata showed a significant reduction in biofilm adhesion compared to PDMS and glass controls containing no lubricant. Further experiments on vascularized versus nonvascularized samples that had been subjected to accelerated lubricant evaporation conditions for up to 48 h showed significantly less biofilm adherence on the vascularized surfaces. These results demonstrate the ability of an embedded lubricant-filled vascular network to improve the longevity of fouling-release surfaces.