Plants provide yet another scientific breakthrough.
Chalk up another example of science finding inspiration in nature. The slipperiest substance in nature appears to be the lip of a deadly (to insects) pitcher plant. And a scientist has copied it…
The pitcher plant kills and eats animals. Some of its leaves are shaped like deep pitchers, and their rims, known as peristomes, are exceptionally slippery. Insects that explore the rim, looking for nectar, soon lose their footholds and fall in. They soon drown, and are broken down by the pitcher’s digestive fluids. (There are some exceptions – see slideshow at the bottom).
Under the microscope, the secret to the peristome’s slipperiness is clear. It is lined with cells that overlap one another, creating a series of step-like ridges and troughs. The plant secretes nectar onto this uneven surface. The troughs collect the nectar, and the ridges hold it in place, preventing it from draining away. The result is an extremely smooth, stable and slippery surface that repels the oils on the feet of insects. Any bug that walks on this frictionless zone falls to its doom.
Tak-Sing Wong of Harvard University recreated this scheme using synthetic materials to build a surface that is slipperier than anything ever made. See the nuts-and-bolts of how he did it at Not Exactly Rocket Science.