Leaf-Inspired 3D Printed Microstructure Could Clean Oceans after Oil Spills

There have studies to try and find solutions to man-made problems such as oil spills. Oil spills not only harm the environment they can kill animals.

A research team at the University of Southern California has used the structure of the leaf in order to create material that can actually separate oil and water. This leads to a much safer as well as efficient cleanup of oil spills.

The material is also able to manipulate microdroplets, in other words the transfer of miniature volumes of liquid. Microdroplets are used in applications such as DNA sequencing, cell cultures, and chemical synthesis.

The Floating Fern

The leaf that was used in the research was a floating fern. This fern is native to South America. The plant is thought to be hydrophobic because it lives on water and has to have air to survive.

Submerging in water for a long time would kill the fern. The leaf can survive a short time because of its hairs which are water resistant. The hairs of the leaf resemble an egg beater. It is this structure that is super-hydrophobic.

The leaf has a biological phenomenon called “Salvinia effect” that the research team has been able to mimic. The immersed surface accumulation 3D printing is able to create the egg-beater microstructure. The samples are created out of carbon nanotubes and plastic.

This method let the team create a material that is both water resistant and oil-absorbing. When mixed together it causes water and oil to separate.

The “Salvinia effect” which prompted the creation of a method to separate oil and water can be used in other ways such as monitoring of drug delivery, regeneration of tissue, and drug discovery.

3D Prototype

The team created a 3D prototype stating that there is a high demand for a method to separate oil and water when oil spills occur. It was done simply by modifying the surface of the fern leaf by using a 3D printer.

The research team hopes that this technology can be used when massive oil spills happen in the ocean. This will help aid in protecting the environment as well as animals.