A team from the College of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Hexi University in China believe that by studying the superhydrophobicity of the water boatman’s hind wings, they can design a submarine that is not only capable of operating underwater, but also of maneuvering on the surface! Their research focuses on superhydrophobicity — the interaction between solids and liquids which gives water boatmen the amazing ability to swim, breathe, balance and ‘skate’ over the surface of lakes and ponds.
In their report, “Investigation of superhydrophobicity on water boatman’s hind wings”, which was published in the Chinese Science Bulletin, the team said that the water boatman’s legs exhibit “perfect superhydrophobicity”. They believe it is possible to create artificial superhydrophobic materials by chemically modifying nano-structured surfaces with materials of low surface free energy and thus enable objects to ‘walk on water’.
What the team focused on in their study was how the water boatmen could also “escape” from the water surface under unfavorable conditions. By moving its legs while it swims, the insect is able to create counter-forces between itself and the water, allowing it to push itself forwards or downwards. If the legs stop swimming, then the boatman’s body simply floats due to the buoyancy induced by its perfect superhydrophobicity.
The real-world applications for this are huge. The team believe that it could revolutionize how submarines are designed. By implementing superhydrophobicity surfaces, a submarine or naval robot could theoretically swim and walk in water as well as countering strong wave resistance and to maintain high walking stability. In their report, the team also state that miniature biochemical sensors could be fitted to a vehicle allowing it to provide environmental monitoring and cleaning applications.
Once again bio-mimicry has revealed huge potential in how we travel across the sea. Instead of being reliant on the wind or engines, there is a chance we could soon be skating from coast to coast!