Washington DC: They may be flightless, but penguins' anti-icing tricks can hold a clue that prevents aeroplanes from crashing, according to a new study.
Antarctic penguins live in a bitterly cold place, where the air temperature can drop to -40 degrees Celsius and the winds can hurtle at speeds of 40 meters per second. Although these birds routinely hop in and out of the water in sub-freezing temperatures, they manage to keep ice from coating their feathers.
Now, researchers have examined penguin feathers in extreme detail and think they know the penguins' anti-icing trick: a combination of nanostructures and special oil make Antarctic penguin feathers ultra-water-repelling or superhydrophobic. Droplets of water on the feathers bead up so much that it's difficult for heat to flow out of the droplet and the water will roll off before it has time to freeze.
Penguin's anti-icing solutions could help humans solve some of our own problems with ice. For example, ice on an airplane's wings, flaps and rudder can alter the aerodynamic properties of the plane and even cause it to crash. Airlines spend lots of time and money applying chemical de-icers to planes that fly in winter weather. Superhydrophobic surfaces inspired by penguins might be cheaper, longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly.
Pirouz Kavehpour said "It's a little ironic that a bird that doesn't fly could one day help airplane fly more safely," Kavehpour said.
The research has been presented at the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics.