Nature, Science and Cicadas

Nature, throughout millions of years of evolution, has figured out a way to adapt to every environment. This has made it as complex and marvelous as we know it today. From all the different shapes of plant leafs to a dog’s ability to read human expressions or, from a bird’s beak to the smallest insects. This is the reason scientists have looked up to nature for inspiration in search of ways to develop or improve human technology.

Cicada in a tree branch

Most recently, in a study published on August 2, 2017, by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, researchers are looking into cicadas, more specifically, their wings.
Cicada’s wings are great for repelling water. Nenad Miljkovic, a University of Illinois mechanical science and engineering professor who co-led a new study of cicada wings, explains that hydrophobicity is the property that allows a surface to repel water and superhydrophobicity the extreme from this property.

“Cicada wings that have this feature have a rough nanotexture that creates open spaces around water droplets, allowing surface tension to force the droplets to jump off of the wings.”

cicada wings close-up

Engineers and biologists worked together to collect and study cicada species from different environments and determine what factors would better predict superhydrophobicity and thus, use this knowledge for mechanical engineering applications.

Their study found that the cicada wings have microscopic features. Rough nanotextures create open spaces around water droplets, allowing surface tension to force the droplets to jump off of the wings. Other benefits of this structure are the antifogging, ani-icing, self-cleaning and condensation heat transfer properties that can be applied to future research.

Research on water shedding behaviors on nature will enable the development and manufacture of artificial surfaces with energy and water applications. This research is just the beginning.

cicada wing superhydrophobicity properties chart

Image ACS Publications. “Exploring the Role of Habitat on the Wettability of Cicada Wings” Publication Date (Web): July 18, 2017. Copyright © 2017 American Chemical Society