Wear-resistant surfaces inspired by scorpions


January 26, 2012

Scientists have unlocked the secret to scorpions' ability to withstand sand-blasting, and applied it to man-made materials (Photo: Quartl)

Scientists have unlocked the secret to scorpions' ability to withstand sand-blasting, and applied it to man-made materials (Photo: Quartl)

As any graffiti-removal specialist will tell you, sand-blasting is definitely an effective method of removing substances that have bonded onto hard surfaces. Unfortunately, sand or other abrasive particles suspended in air or liquid also have a way of eroding not just spray paint, but pretty much anything they encounter. As a result, items such as helicopter rotor blades, airplane propellers, rocket motor nozzles and pipes regularly wear out and need to replaced. Interestingly enough, however, scorpions live their entire lives subjected to blowing sand, yet they never appear to ... well, to erode. A group of scientists recently set out to discover their secret, so it could be applied to man-made materials.

Zhiwu Han, Junqiu Zhang, and Wen Li led a team that examined the bumps and grooves on the exoskeleton of the yellow fattail scorpion. They started by scanning the creatures' backs with a 3D laser device, then used that data to create a computer model of the surface. A computer simulation was then applied to that model, to see how sand-laden air would flow over it. The digital model was also used as a template for an actual physical model, which was used in erosion wind tunnel tests.

The scientists subsequently applied what they observed in the scorpions' exoskeletons to man-made surfaces. They determined that the effects of erosion on steel surfaces could be significantly reduced, if that steel contained a series of small grooves set at a 30-degree angle to the flow of abrasive particles.

This isn't the first time that the study of creepy-crawlies' outer shells has had beneficial results for humans. Last year, MIT scientist Shreerang Chhatre devised a dew-harvesting material for people living in arid regions, based on the bumpy back of the water droplet-collecting Namib Beetle.

A paper on the scorpion research was recently published in the American Chemical Society journal Langmuir.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth
1 Comment

i saw a couple of decades ago a pattern upon a surface in a popular mechanics issue that claimed easier air penertration.(lower cd) was one of those small items but i\'ve looked for that issue without success many times.i wouldn\'t be surprised about that 30% angle being present in that pattern.

Cowfy Kaufman
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