Just as horses shake off pesky flies by twitching their skin, ships may soon be able to shed the unwanted accumulation of bacteria and other marine growth with the flick of a switch.
Duke University engineers have developed a material that can be applied like paint to the hull of a ship and will literally be able to dislodge bacteria, keeping it from accumulating on the ship's surface. This buildup on ships increases drag and reduces the energy efficiency of the vessel, as well as blocking or clogging undersea sensors.
The material works by physically moving at the microscopic level, knocking the bacteria away. This avoids the use of bacteria-killing paints, which can contain heavy metals or other toxic chemicals that might accumulate in the environment and unintentionally harm fish or other marine organisms.
The Duke researchers also say that similar types of materials could be used in other settings where the buildup of bacteria -- known as biofilms -- presents problems, such as on the surfaces of artificial joint implants or water purification membranes.
"We have developed a material that 'wrinkles,' or changes it surface in response to a stimulus, such as stretching or pressure or electricity," said Duke engineer Xuanhe Zhao, assistant professor in Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. "This deformation can effectively detach biofilms and other organisms that have accumulated on the surface."
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