(Left) Nepenthes Pitcher Plant (Right) SLIPS surface concept, inspired by the plant (via Harvard & Ubcbotanicalgarden & Centre for plant research)
Many industrial applications call for specialized materials that have repellency to viscous fluids or bacteria growth. Some materials require being transparent and stain-resistant while others may need to be biocompatible with living things. These seemingly unrelated characteristics gives rise to a slew of different materials that must be individually manufactured in specialized facilities and can be frightfully expensive.
A team of material scientists at Harvard has developed a liquid solution made of synthetic nano and microstructured substrates that mimics the inner lining of the Nepenthes pitcher plant, and it is capable of repelling practically anything you try to apply to it. The SLIPS or Self-healing, Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surface can be used to treat surfaces to make them anti-graffiti, anti-biofouling, anti-icing or anti-coagulation. The SLIPS solution can be optimized for specific applications that take place under extreme pressures or temperatures, increased chemical inertness and an increased ability of instantly self-healing imperfections. Notable applications where this is necessary include transporting crude oil and biofuels, economical heating and cooling systems or ice resistant coatings in refrigerated areas or polar environments.
Other uses may call for optimum optical transparency such as solar cells, lenses, sensors and night-vision goggles. These could all be treated with SLIPS solution to create devices that are self-cleaning and stain resistant but still let through the desired visible or near IR light. Medical devices that must be biocompatible and resistant to bio-fouling can also be treated with SLIPS to achieve these properties easily and effectively. Instruments used in under water exploration or on boats can also be treated.
Of course, SLIPS can be used as the pitcher plant does to make sure insects cannot walk or stick on treated surfaces.
Evidently, SLIPS has tons of possible uses. Surely something to keep an eye on, though the Harvard team has not announced when they will go commercial with their invention.