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An aircraft in the sky seen from the ground.

Water can’t get a grip on a newly fabricated material, which might one day help to prevent ice build-up on aeroplane wings. Credit: Getty

Materials science

A surface stays frost-free by showing water drops no mercy

A bio-inspired material forces water droplets to jump into the void — and thus prevents ice formation.

A textured material repels water so well that any droplets that condense on its surface vault off almost immediately, standing no chance of turning into dangerous ice.

Keeping people safe on wintry pavements and ensuring that planes stay ice-free requires surfaces that thwart frost formation. Wheat plants offer clues for doing the job: the structure of their leaves causes small droplets of dew to merge. The resulting, larger droplets spontaneously propel themselves off the leaf, keeping the foliage clean and dry.

Ximin He at the University of California, Los Angeles, Zhiyuan He at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and their colleagues drew on this phenomenon to fight frost. The researchers deposited a layer of nanoparticles onto copper in a porous pattern that mimicked the wheat leaf’s texture. The pattern forces water droplets on the material to merge and jump off within milliseconds, which not only keeps the material dry but also maximizes its ability to absorb solar energy.

Under artificial sunlight, the material stayed dry and kept its surface temperature above freezing even amid humid surroundings at −50 °C.

More Research Highlights...

Camera-trap image of Dendrohyrax interfluvialis

Some tree hyraxes scream in the night, but the newly identified Dendrohyrax interfluvialis (above, camera-trap image) utters a complex series of squawks, rattles and barks. Credit: J. F. Oates et al./Zool. J. Linn. Soc.


A bark in the dark reveals a hidden hyrax

Its neighbours scream, but a new species of tree hyrax — a cousin of the elephant — unleashes a rattling bark.
Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water

Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty


Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
A woman wearing a protective face mask splashes her hands in a jet of water

A pedestrian seeks relief from searing temperatures in Spain, where a high proportion of heat-related deaths have been linked to climate change. Credit: SALAS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Climate change

More than one-third of heat deaths blamed on climate change

Warming resulting from human activities accounts for a high percentage of heat-related deaths, especially in southern Asia and South America.
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