Rows of tiny raised blowfly corneas may be the key to easy manufacturing of biomimetic surfaces, surfaces that mimic the properties of biological tissues, according to a team of Penn State researchers.
"Bioreplication began about 2001 or 2002," said Akhlesh Lakhtakia, Godfrey Binder Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics. "All the techniques currently available are not conducive to mass replications. In many cases you can make as many replicas as you want, but you need an insect for each replication. This is not good for industrial purposes."
Lakhtakia, working with Drew Patrick Pulsifer, graduate student in engineering science and mechanics; Carlo G. Pantano, distinguished professor of materials science and engineering and director of Penn State's Materials Research Institute; and Ral Jos Martn-Palma, professor of applied physics, Universidad Autnomia de Madrid, Spain, developed a method to create macroscale molds or dies that retain nanoscale features.
"We needed an object large enough to manipulate that still had nanoscale features," said Lakhtakia.
The researchers chose blowfly eyes because they have potential application in the manufacture of solar cells. Blowflies have compound eyes that are roughly hemispherical; but within that half sphere, the surface is covered by macroscale hexagonal eyes with nanoscale features.
"These eyes are perfect for making solar cells because they would collect more sunlight from a larger area rather than just light that falls directly on a flat surface," said Lakhtakia.
However, in order to work in a manufactured product, the surface needs to retain the overall design in sufficient detail.
The researchers fixed the fly corneas on a glass substrate and filled the back of the corneas with polydimethylsiloxane, a silicone-based organic polymer, so that the metal covering they apply would not seep behind the eyes. They then deposited nickel on the surface u
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