Lotus-plant-inspired dust-busting shield to protect space gear

The lotus plant has inspired materials engineers to create a coating that mimics the plant's unusual self-cleaning capabilities. Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons / LiangjinjianGREENBELT, Md. — A NASA team is developing a transparent coating that mimics the self-cleaning properties of the lotus plant to prevent dirt from sticking to the surfaces of spaceflight gear and bacteria from growing inside astronaut living quarters.

Materials engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., are working to develop a "lotus" coating that can survive the harsh space environment and minimize contaminants from adhering to the surfaces of radiators, spacesuits, scientific instruments, robotic rovers, solar array panels, windows and other hardware used to gather scientific data or carry out exploratory activities during missions.

The technology, which was inspired by the lotus plant that lives along muddy waterways in Asia, was commercially developed as a coating for windows to reduce the need for cleaning. Although a lotus leaf appears smooth, under a microscope, its surface actually contains innumerable tiny spikes. These spikes greatly reduce the area on which water and dirt can attach, preventing them from adhering strongly to the leaf. Water droplets literally roll off, taking mud, tiny insects, and contaminants with them.

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