Mimicking Nature to Improve Performance of Micro Devices

Researchers create polymer nano structures that mimic the surface fibers of the lotus leaf

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Engineers at Rochester Institute of Technology and San Francisco State University are taking inspiration from the plant world to create new nano structures that will improve the performance of a host of micro devices.

The research team is attempting to create nano fibers that can be placed in the micro and nano channels of micro electro-mechanical systems and biomedical devices. The fibers will be used to capture the particles that often collect on the walls of the channels, known as fouling, which can contaminate experiments and reduce the efficiency of the devices. The nano structures mirror the fibers present on a lotus leaf, which collect and remove water and other substances from the leaf’s surface.

“Fouling is a major impediment to the improvement of microsystem performance and efficiency,” notes Yen-Wen Lu, assistant professor of microsystems engineering at RIT and principal investigator on the project. “Through the development of these nano fibers we hope to create a system that passively removes these particles similar to the system nature has created on the lotus leaf.”

Lu and collaborator Kwok Siong Teh, professor of mechanical engineering at San Francisco State University, are currently designing and testing a nano fiber structure and hope to ultimately develop a manipulation mechanism with self-cleaning, anti-fouling capability that could be incorporated into numerous types of micro devices.

“This research seeks to enhance understanding of the fouling phenomenon while also developing a structure and fabrication method to solve the problem,” adds Lu. “The findings will assist in guiding additional research and enhance commercialization opportunities for anti-fouling mechanisms.”

The project includes a number of graduate and undergraduate students from both institutions and is being funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation.