Editors Note: We’re always pleased to hear stories about young biomimics. The Bay Area Biomimicry Network sent us this story about three young men who worked with the Network to refine their design for a student clean tech competition. Have a story to share? Let us know.
By George Groh
A beetle-inspired water collector earned three Bay Area high school seniors, Kadhirvel Manickam, Bryan Wang, and Shin Hoo Lee, top honors and a $5,000 grand prize in the 2013 Clean Tech Competition, organized by Applied Materials, Inc. and the Center for Science Teaching and Learning. Their winning design, the “Struo,” pulls potable water right out of the air.
Inspiration for the Struo came from the Namib Desert Beetle (Stenocara gracilipes), which has evolved a unique anatomical feature to gather water, a carapace full of bumps and troughs. Here’s how it works: The hydrophilic bumps attract micro-particles of water in the air. As water accumulates, gravity overwhelms the electrostatic attraction and it runs down the bump, through a hydrophobic trough, and into the beetle’s mouth. In the Struo, alternating layers of glass and nylon thread mimic the hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties of the beetle’s shell, directing water into a collector for human use.
The students collaborated with the Bay Area Biomimicry Network in the late stages of the competition, and Kadhirvel and his family met Biomimicry 3.8 chemist Mark Dorfman. Kadhirvel, Bryan, and Shin Hoo hope that a fully developed version of the Struo can someday provide cheap, clean water for people in remote and underdeveloped communities around the world.