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Biomimetic surface engineering: manufacturing functional surfaces using digital processing technologies

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In the field of surface engineering, nature reigns supreme. Natural examples of functional surfaces combine aspects of physics, chemistry and engineering which are attracting significant research attention to understand and artificially reproduce their properties.

The first half of this talk highlights examples of plant and animal surfaces with extreme wettability and presents some of the experimental approaches used to reproduce their properties. I discuss the water collecting mechanisms of the rice leaf and Namib desert beetle. This is contrasted with the self-cleaning water repellence of the lotus leaf. The Nepenthes pitcher plant and the placoid scales of shark skin are highlighted as interesting examples of surfaces which prevent the adhesion of organisms or bacteria.

Following from this review, I discuss the development of a laser processing technique which modifies the surface structure and chemistry of stainless steel to produce a self-cleaning superhydrophobic surface. The experimental work carried out so far in my PhD is outlined, sharing the insight gained into the hierarchical surface structure and laser-induced chemical reaction which enable the superhydrophobic effect. The use of a nanosecond-pulsed fibre laser coupled with post-process heat treatment is shown to provide a scalable and cost-effective route to wide area manufacture. Finally, the value of the laser processing technique to produce patternable control of wettability is explored with initial results reported for applications in microfluidic and water harvesting devices.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Sciences Group series.

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