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Institute of Functional Surfaces

Biomimetics and bioinspiration

Lotus Leaf

We are using nature as an inspiration to develop engineering and analytical solutions to some challenging research issues.

Overview

Taking inspiration from biological systems that have evolved over millennia in order to solve engineering problems has the potential to lead to major advances in almost every sphere of engineering.

Taking a systematic approach to biomimetics and adapting the natural system to the realities of engineering systems, while at the same time retaining the performance of biological systems, is a multidisciplinary challenge. We are the founders of the University of Leeds Biomimetics Network, which brings together researchers from different fields to work on multidisciplinary projects in the bioinspiration field.

Current research

Current research projects cover a diverse range of application areas but the focal point of all research activities is the development of bioinspired surfaces and materials.

A PhD project investigating different natural systems to provide adhesion forces for a surgical device at the intra-abdominal peritoneal surface has been recently finalised. This area is being further developed through a pre-clinical project, worth £360K, which has been funded by New and Emerging Applications of Technology (NEAT) Programme. The project will lead to a prototype device being developed and tested.

We are working together with biologists in developing anti-freeze industry-relevant surfaces inspired by the unique anti-freeze functionality of ‘Anti-Freeze Proteins’ seen in polar fish.  This work has great potential for developing novel solutions for ice prevention in wings, roads, etc. and has already attracted interest from the air-conditioning industry.

Another PhD project is on its final stage to study nanostructured polymer surfaces, derived from anti-reflective moth-eye structure, as a potential solution to reduce mineral scale deposition and to solve serious flow assurance problem in the oil and gas sector. The initial results are promising, showing reduction in CaCO3 crystals deposition on nanostructured polymer surfaces comparing to classical stainless steel material.

An EPSRC-funded Knowledge Transfer Secondment project carried out in collaboration with Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) and Becker Underwood Ltd, the largest global manufacturer of beneficial nematodes, investigates strategies for improving the efficiency of bio-pesticide application methods for field crops.

Research in the area of cartilage inspired lubrication, previously funded by EPSRC, has been continued by demonstrating the potential for the pressurisation of the fluid within the porous material for load transfer. We are also looking into making a step change in developing Tribology systems with very low friction and wear by taking inspiration from the lubrication of mammalian joints. The way lotus leaves use super-hydrophobic surfaces is the inspiration behind producing surfaces for the oil and gas industries to prevent surface fouling.

Future research

• Bioinspired materials and surfaces with improved functionality for a wide range

of application areas

• Robotic devices for Minimally Invasive Surgery

• Self-healing surfaces