■ David Catchpoole
BUTTERFLY WINGS, it has now been discovered, employ two of nature’s tricks to help keep them- selves clean: the ‘shark skin effect’ and the ‘lotus effect’.1
On shark scales, microscopic riblets reduce friction as a
shark slices through the water, and make it difficult for barnacles and other unwanted hitchhikers to grab hold. This phenomenon is the envy of engineers trying to overcome ‘biofouling’,
which plagues shipping and other marine industries. It turns
out that the tiny shingle-like scales on a butterfly’s wing similarly have an orderly arrangement of microgrooves and bumps,
invisible to the naked eye. This feature both reduces in-flight
drag and stops rainwater from pooling anywhere on the
surface, preventing the build-up of debris and contaminants.
And this is helped by the butterfly wing’s lotus-like properties of low adhesion and superhydrophobicity (i.e. repelling
water). The lotus has tiny bumps that trap air under any water
droplets, which repels water from penetrating further. 2 This
means that water droplets “roll off effortlessly”, as described
by Ohio State University’s Dr Bharat Bhushan, one of the
researchers making this discovery of the combination of shark
skin and lotus leaf features in butterfly wings (and in rice leaves,
too).1 He and colleagues hope to see the fantastic properties of
nature’s best self-cleaners copied in industry—but it will take
quite some further research and development (R&D) yet. 3
“We are investigating methods to fabricate rice leaf and
butterfly wing-inspired films for applications requiring low
drag, self-cleaning and anti-fouling,” Bhushan said.1 Such
applications could range from marine anti-fouling to reducing
the accumulation of microbes in medical tubing, thus lessening
patients’ risk of infection.
This is certainly not the first time that design in nature
has inspired industrial solutions. As Bhushan noted, “Living
nature is full of engineering marvels, from the micro to the
macro scale, that have inspired mankind for centuries.”1
Indeed so. The shark skin effect, for example, inspired low-drag ‘shark skin swimsuits’ that in 2009 were banned from
Olympic competition because records were being smashed. 4, 5
But in reporting this latest discovery, LiveScience wrongly
credited nature’s engineering marvels to nature itself:
“With 3. 5 billion years of research and development
under her belt, Mother Nature could be considered the
world’s most experienced biological engineer. Sure, her
methods may appear haphazard at times, but her track
record of developing organisms that are exquisitely
adapted to the tasks required of them is nothing short
But the 3. 5 billion years of time and nature’s mooted R&D
are storytelling. No-one has ever observed nature’s ‘haphazard
methods’ (ostensibly mutations and natural selection, according
to evolutionary textbooks) produce the exquisite engineering
design so prevalent in nature. If ‘she’ could ever6 marshal
such blunt information-less instruments to produce informa-tion-rich, exquisite design, it really would be “nothing short
of amazing”! (Miraculous, actually—but that’s not allowed!)
Rather, these engineering marvels require a Marvellous
Engineer. The Bible tells us Who that is, and when He did
it—about 6,000 years ago, not billions.
References and notes
1. Thompson, V., Engineers follow Mother Nature’s lead on keeping
clean, livescience.com, 18 January 2013.
2. Barthlott, W., Neinhuis, C., Purity of the sacred lotus, or escape
from contamination in biological surfaces, Planta 202(1):1– 8, 1997;
Ruokamo, J., Caution—slippery surface, creation.com/slippery, 13
surface structures combining shark skin and lotus effects, Soft Matter,
11 September 2012 | doi: 10.1039/c2sm26655e.
4. Adams, D., The best of biomimicry: Here’s 7 brilliant examples of
nature-inspired design, digitaltrends.com, 28 January 2017.
5. Sixty-six Olympic swimming records were broken at the 2008
Olympics, and 70 world swimming records throughout that whole year.
West, M., By the skin of their suits, plus.maths.org, 4 April 2012.
6. See: Time—no friend of evolution, Creation 34( 3): 30–31, 2012;
Nature’s self-clea i g marvels
WHO DID THE RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT?
After working as a plant physiologist and science educator, Dr Catchpoole
worked for many years as a scientist/speaker for Creation Ministries
International (Australia). He continues to write for CMI. For more: creation.