Jan 7, 2019 | By Cameron

Chromoplastic dew collectors were envisioned by Frank Herbert in his 1965 science fiction novel Dune; they’re gadgets used by natives of the desert planet Arrakis to extract moisture from the atmosphere to sustain their agriculture. Today, humans employ similar systems in our deserts to do exactly the same thing, such as the giant nets used in the Atacama Desert of Chile to gather water from fog for farmers. Dew is an ideal source of water as it’s purified in the evaporative process, and it’s also present in very dry places. In fact, many plants and animals collect dew from the air, which is why Bharat Bhushan of Ohio State University decided to look to life in the desert for inspiration.

Bhushan is an Ohio Eminent Scholar and Howard D. Winbigler Professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State; he explains an early realization, “We thought: ‘How can we gather water from the ambient air around us?’ And so, we looked to the things in nature that already do that: the cactus, the beetle, desert grasses.”

All those lifeforms collect water from nighttime fog, using different geometries to draw in tiny droplets of water and direct them to reservoirs and roots. Beetles have water-repellant bumps on their backs that collect drops of water; flat surfaces between the bumps allow the water to flow down to the beetle’s mouth. The tips of desert grasses collect water droplets that then fall down straight channels to the roots. And a cactus collects water on the tips of its barbs, which then direct the water down conical spines to the base of the cactus.

As such, the research team designed and 3D printed different surfaces with bumps, barbs, and channels and put them in an enclosed environment with simulated fog created by a commercial humidifier. Their observations confirm that cones collect more water than cylinders, “which made sense, given what we know about the cactus,” Bhushan explained, referencing the physics phenomenon called the Laplace pressure gradient. Grooved surfaces gathered around twice as much water as ungrooved surfaces, “which seems obvious in retrospect, because of what we know about grass,” Bhushan commented.

The surface material also affects water gathering, as Bhushan relates, “The beetle’s surface material is heterogeneous, with hydrophilic spots surrounded by hydrophobic regions, which allows water to flow more easily to the beetle’s mouth.” The spacing of the cones and bumps was relevant as well.

“Water supply is a critically important issue, especially for people of the most arid parts of the world,” said Bhushan. “By using bio-inspired 3D printed dew collectors, we can help address the challenge of providing clean water to people around the globe, in as efficient a way as possible.” 3D printing is a fantastic tool for this research as it can quickly and affordably produce different geometries from different materials.

Their findings were published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Orest wrote at 2/15/2019 4:30:26 PM:

LOL! Ah, Thunderf00t will get crazy when he reads this!

Duncan Idaho wrote at 1/8/2019 10:25:53 AM:

As an avid Dune fan, I think Frank Herbert would be cool with his name being connected to 3d printed things. Seems like a good home for a mind like his.

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