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ACS Nano. 2010 Jan 26;4(1):129-36. doi: 10.1021/nn900869b.

How micro/nanoarchitecture facilitates anti-wetting: an elegant hierarchical design on the termite wing.

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  • 1School of Pharmacy and Molecular Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia.


The termite is an insect which is a weak flier, has a large wing area in relation to its body mass, and many species typically fly during rain or storm periods. Water droplets placed on these insects' wings will spontaneously roll off the surface. Here we show how the intricate hierarchical array design of these insect wings achieves anti-wetting properties with water bodies of various sizes by reducing contact area and thus adhesion. To repel large droplets, the termite uses an array of hairs with a specially designed nanoarchitecture, which we demonstrate is critical for this function. By coating single hairs with a polymer of varying thicknesses (with a similar hydrophobicity to insect cuticle), we demonstrate that hairs of the same chemistry and with the complete nanoarchitecture show the greatest resistance to penetrating water bodies. The wings also consist of an underlying non-wetting membrane substructure comprising an array of star-shaped microstructures which minimize interaction with micro-sized droplets of water. The sophisticated micro/nanostructured hierarchy on the termite wing membrane not only results in non-wetting at different length scales but also demonstrates a design for weight and material minimization while achieving this state. Elucidating the function of such structures has implications for understanding insect biology and the evolution of wings.

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