Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Genius of the Cicada Wing

Cicada

Tiny bumps on cicada wings repel water and dirt.

By Gregory Watson & Jolanta Watson

The nanostructure of cicada wings is inspiring new materials that are self-cleaning, repel water and can kill bacteria.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

On a bush walk more than 10 years ago we found a dead cicada, and started to ask questions about it. The trail we began to follow has now led to the discovery of materials that are self-cleaning, repel water, kill bacteria and can serve as a base for culturing cells. They may well provide the blueprint for many useful materials.

We began our investigation by exploring what the cicada surface looked like with an atomic force microscope. The wing consisted of tiny bumps of similar height spaced around 200 nm apart (Fig. 1). Why would this insect evolve such fine structuring of its wing?

We noticed that the wings didn’t seem to reflect light very well. We knew that moths had evolved similar nano-patterning on their eyes, so it seemed reasonable that the cicada structuring may serve a similar purpose. Not shining in the sunlight or moonlight would help the insect to avoid predators such as birds – a good stealth technology.

We used our instrumentation to physically scrape away...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.