Fly eyes inspire anti-fogging materials

Fly eyes inspire anti-fogging materials

Researchers have discovered the eye of the fly may hold the key to anti-fogging materials.

Self-cleaning windows and glasses that don’t fog up are among the innovative applications that could soon appear after UOW researchers turned to the common house fly for the inspiration behind a new anti-fogging material.

The material, developed at the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials (ISEM) led by Professor Shi Xue Dou, could also be used as a coating to prevent ice build-up that leads to interruption of supply and service on high-voltage overhead power lines and telecommunications networks.

The common green housefly can see clearly in dusty and wet environments and when the researchers put it in under a microscope in a humid environment they found condensation occurred only on its body and not its compound eyes.

Inspection under a high-powered scanning electron microscope revealed the surface of the eye was made up of thousands of small hexagonal shapes and within each of those hexagons there were still more hexagonal shapes.

Associate Professor Jung Ho Kim said they knew that zinc oxide has a similar hexagonal structure so the team set about building a material to mimic the fly’s eye to replicate its anti-fogging and anti-contamination properties.

The zinc nanoparticles assembled into hexagonal shapes similar to the fly eye was tested and found that it was similarly superhydrophobic, or could not be wet with water, which would allow the material to be developed into coatings that are anti-fogging, anti-corrosive and self-cleaning.

The process used to construct the material is also feasible for low-cost, large-scale production.

Researchers have long studied nature to find answers for developing new materials to address common problems such as moisture build up that can wreak havoc on small electronic components and devices.

“Nature is great teacher,” Professor Jung Ho Kim said. “Anti-fogging and anti-contamination coatings have a potential range of applications from self-cleaning windows on your car or home right through to windows on planes.

"As someone who wears spectacles and doesn’t enjoy cleaning my windows at home, I hope that further work can be done on these applications sooner rather than later.”

The research was published recently in the journal Small.