Nature provides another model for technological advancement.

Ohio State University researchers have discovered that a weed, Salvinia molesta, that clogs up the waterways of many parts of the Americas and Australia actually holds the clues to creating a new type of waterproof coating for materials — all thanks to a very unusual characteristic.

This weed has eggbeater-shaped hairs that trap air and keep the plant floating on the surface of the water — and these odd hairs have inspired a brand new type of coating for things like boats or submarines…

According to Ohio State University, the shape of the hairs allow it to easily trap air in little pockets, and the tip of the hairs are sticky so it can cling to the water. The hairs thus create a combination of buoyancy and clingy-ness that keep the plant floating but stale on the surface of the water. Engineers recreated this unusual feature using plastic and tests of the material so have have been successful.

The engineers behind the new material think it could be made commercially for boats and other aquatic vehicles, helping to increase buoyancy while reducing friction and drag. So while the plant can be a pain and clog up waterways, it has provided some solid inspiration for biomimicry.

Photo © Ohio State University