Tropical plant inspires super-slippery coating for medical use
Chemical engineers have turned to exotic meat-eating plant life for inspiration in creating materials that have potential for use as a coating on medical devices.
The pitcher plant - which is carnivorous by trapping and digesting animals in leaves that resemble trumpets or small pitchers - has a highly slippery surface that stops its prey from escaping. This surface can repel liquids and contaminants, the scientists from Harvard University found, and it has self-healing properties when scratched.
They mimicked these effects in their work to develop a transparent coating they call SLIPS (slippery liquid-infused porous surface). Taking inspiration from the pitcher plant's inner surface to develop the properties of the new material, however, has meant that it could be used to coat the insides of medical tubing, such as catheters and blood transfusion systems, improving the flow and sterility of fluids through them.
The scientists created their super-slippery surface by infusing a "nano/micro-structured porous material" with a lubricating fluid.
The chemical engineers list a number of remarkable properties to their new material, which can:
- Repel various simple and complex liquids (water, hydrocarbons, crude oil and blood)
- Quickly restore liquid-repellency after physical damage (in under 1 second)
- Resist ice adhesion, and
- Function at high pressures (up to about 680 atmospheres).
"By mimicking the pitcher plant's skin structure, this new coating self-heals almost instantly, even if scraped with a knife or blade.
It is capable of operating in extreme temperatures and high pressure, and can be applied to surfaces ranging from metals and semiconductors, to paper and cotton fabric."