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Ultrafast water harvesting and transport in hierarchical microchannels


Various natural materials have hierarchical microscale and nanoscale structures that allow for directional water transport. Here we report an ultrafast water transport process in the surface of a Sarracenia trichome, whose transport velocity is about three orders of magnitude faster than those measured in cactus spine and spider silk. The high velocity of water transport is attributed to the unique hierarchical microchannel organization of the trichome. Two types of ribs with different height regularly distribute around the trichome cone, where two neighbouring high ribs form a large channel that contains 1–5 low ribs that define smaller base channels. This results in two successive but distinct modes of water transport. Initially, a rapid thin film of water is formed inside the base channels (Mode I), which is followed by ultrafast water sliding on top of that thin film (Mode II). This two-step ultrafast water transport mechanism is modelled and experimentally tested in bio-inspired microchannels, which demonstrates the potential of this hierarchal design for microfluidic applications.

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Fig. 1: In situ optical microscope images of the Sarracenia trichome and its water transport process.
Fig. 2: Appearance and surface structure of the Sarracenia trichome.
Fig. 3: Water transport process along various bio-inspired hierarchical microchannels.
Fig. 4: Mechanism of water transport in hierarchical microchannels and a real trichome.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.


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We thank the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars (grant no. 51725501) and the Key Project (grant no. 21431009), and the fund for the 111 Project (grant no. B14009). We also thank M. Li, G. Wang and Y. Lai from the National Natural Science Foundation of China for their support and helpful discussions.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



H.C. and T.R. performed the experiments. H.C. and T.R. worked on the water transport and characterization of the trichome surface of Sarracenia. H.C., J.Z. and T.R. worked on the investigation of the theoretical model. H.C., T.R. and Y.Z. worked on the fabrication of the artificial biomimetic surface. H.C., T.R., Y.G., Y.Z., D.Z. and L.J. collected and analysed the data and proposed the mechanism for water transport on the peristome surface. H.C., T.R. and L.J. wrote the text. H.C. conceived the project and designed the experiments.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Huawei Chen or Lei Jiang.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Video legends 1–9, Supplementary Notes 1–4, Supplementary Figures 1–10 and Supplementary Tables 1–2

Supplementary Video 1

Water transport of real trichome in Mode-I

Supplementary Video 2

Water transport of real trichome in Mode-II

Supplementary Video 3

Partial enlarged water transport of real trichome in Mode-II

Supplementary Video 4

Water transport of SBS replica

Supplementary Video 5

Water transport of smooth SBS trichome replica

Supplementary Video 6

Fluorescent movie of water transport Mode-I in hierarchical microchannels

Supplementary Video 7

Top major filling in Mode-I and succeeding transport in Mode-II

Supplementary Video 8

Water transport Mode-II in hierarchical microchannels and smooth microchannels

Supplementary Video 9

Dimethyl silicone oil transport in hierarchical microchannels

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Chen, H., Ran, T., Gan, Y. et al. Ultrafast water harvesting and transport in hierarchical microchannels. Nature Mater 17, 935–942 (2018).

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