Natural distillation

I was out snowshoeing with a friend not long ago, and ate some snow because I was thirsty. My friend made a comment about the "distilled water" taste of snow, and I suddenly realized something that, really, I've known all along—snow effectively is distilled water.

Water distillation involves vaporizing impure water, then condensing the water vapour back to a liquid. In the case of snow, water vapour in the air freezes directly into snowflake form, making them pure—distilled—water.

Raindrops, on the other hand, while they also condense out of the water vapour in the air, absorb other vapours into the drop. There are some things that absorb more easily than others, SO2 being one of the well known pollutant related compounds that absorbs easily into water, and which makes acid rain. It's a little harder (but not impossible) to dissolve other stuff into solids.

Bouncing liquids

Never mind hydrophobic, how about "omniphobic"?

A new material—or rather, a new shape of an existing material—has been made that rejects nearly every liquid thrown at it, both oils and waters, both acids and bases. The material is a plastic, one with slightly lower surface energy than the famous PTFE (Teflon), so it has very little stick to it to begin with.

In order to make the liquids not only not stick but actually bounce right off, they changed the shape at a microscopic level so it wasn't a smooth flat surface, but a textured surface that was mostly air:

Posted with permission from J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2013, 135 (2), pp 578–581. Copyright 2012 American Chemical Society.

Inspired by: bacteria

Here's another one where nature meets engineering on a microscopic scale: tiny submarines small enough to swim through your blood vessels.

Oops, wrong link.

The submarines I'm actually talking about won't carry people, but once built they could be made to carry small doses of medicine, and directed to swim to a specific spot in your body.

The reason this merits a mention in the "nature meets engineering" category is that down at the 10\(\mu\)m scale (which is to say, 100 of these lined up end to end would only reach 1mm long) you can't just build a tiny motor and propeller and expect to have the submarine go anywhere, because at that scale, the physics of it just doesn't work. Instead, what they looked at was how creatures that are actually that small get around.

Folded Solar

Solar electrical is pretty exciting right now, I must say. After my previous post on some of the cool stuff coming up in photovoltaics I let it slide for a while and chased other cool news, but this new thing from late December really caught my attention.

I mean, solar panel stickers? Which you can apply to fabric or paper, bend them, and have them still work?

The researchers say that this technique isn't only good for solar panels but also possibly for electronic circuits, transistors, and even LCDs as well. Maybe you really could have a solar powered, electronically active jacket, including flexible display, one day. Imagine, a self-powered jacket that could show you a map of where you are, among other things.

They tested the solar panels to a bend radius of 7mm without any damage. I don't know if it would handle a crease (if on paper) very well, or crumpled-clothes type bends. From the paper, it doesn't look like they tested its bending abilities to failure.