Multidisciplinary Nanostructure Research Takes Wing

Spring 2021

A multidisciplinary group that studies the physical and chemical properties of insect wings has demonstrated the ability to reproduce the nanostructures that help cicada wings repel water and prevent bacteria from establishing on the surface. The new technique – which uses commercial nail polish – is economical and straightforward, and the researchers said it will help fabricate future high-tech waterproof materials.

The team used a simplified version of a fabrication process – called nanoimprinting lithography – to make a template of the complex pillar shaped nanostructures on the wings of Neotibicen pruinosus, an annual cicada found in the central region of the United States. The templates are fully dissolvable and produce replicas that average 94.4 percent of the pillar height and 106 percent of the original wing, or master structure’s pillar diameter, the researchers said.

Read the team’s paper in Advanced Materials Interfaces →

“We chose to work with wings of this species of cicada because our past work demonstrates how the complex nanostructures on their wings provide an outstanding ability to repel water. That is a highly desirable property that will be useful in many materials engineering applications, from aircraft wings to medical equipment,” said Professor Marianne Alleyne, an entomology professor at the University of Illinois, who co-led the study with Donald Cropek, of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, and Professor Nenad Miljkovic, a Kritzer Faculty Scholar in Mechanical Science & Engineering.

Nanoimprinting lithography is not new but can be labor-intensive and expensive, the researchers said. Some approaches use toxic materials that can damage the original copied object, like a delicate cicada wing. Others require high temperatures that are not compatible with biological samples such as plants or insects.