The R&D 100 award, previously given for inventions like the fax machine and automated teller machine, has been given this year for a biologically-inspired design that could revolutionize society in many ways.

Pitcher plant:  How would you like a non-stick frying pan that really is non-stick?  Self-cleaning windows?  Clothes that don’t stain?  These may be coming due to SLIPS, a non-stick surface developed at Harvard School of Engineering by a team led by Joanna Aizenberg, a core professor at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering (see entry from 10/10/2011).  The Harvard Press release announcing its win said, “‘SLIPS’ technology … has transformative potential for everyday life.”  Surgeons and hospitals will benefit from tools and surfaces that resist bacteria.  Oil will someday flow through pipes that resist sticking.  Refrigerator coils will no longer have ice buildup.  The possibilities are endless, and this prestigious award, on its 50th anniversary, went to a technology inspired by a pitcher plant.  In a video on PhysOrg’s article, Aizenberg describes SLIPS and demonstrates its effectiveness.

Biomimetics is solving the world’s problems in numerous other ways:

Anti-bacterial coating:  PhysOrg reported that the BIOCOAT project in Belgium is “looking to develop a new concept of coating stainless steel surfaces through bio-inspired processes which respect the environment and are not costly.”  Researchers have developed a “bio-inspired multi-functional polymer” that can be applied to stainless steel by soaking or spraying.  It will resist bacteria and thus improve the safety of numerous objects humans touch every day that otherwise could be vectors of disease.  Someone should invent a way to apply this to TV remotes, among the germiest objects found in hotels.

Micro-adhesion:  How do cells stick together?  Scientists publishing in PNAS wanted to know.  The paper by Pontani et al., “Biomimetic emulsions reveal the effect of mechanical forces on cell–cell adhesion” (PNAS, June 1, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1201499109 ) produced measurements that may “reveal adhesion strengthening with increasing external pressure even in the absence of active cellular processes.”….

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