Scorpions Inspire Scientists to Find Better Erosion-resistant Surfaces

The yellow fat tail scorpion is amongst the most dangerous in the world. It is found in the dry and desert areas of Africa and the Middle-East.

Also known as the desert scorpion (Androctonus australis), it became the source of inspiration for a group of scientists looking for a solution against the erosive impact of nature on man-made materials.

Sand or other rough particles suspended in air or liquid can wear down almost anything - from airplane propellers and helicopter blades to water pipes, turbine blades and rocket motor nozzles. Filters can help remove the particles, but must be replaced or cleaned, while harder, erosion-resistant material cost more to make.

In an effort to develop better erosion-resistant surfaces, Zhiwu Han, Junqiu Zhang, Wen Li and colleagues turned to the exoskeleton of the yellow fat tail scorpion. They studied the bumps and grooves on the scorpion's back, scanning the creature with a 3-D laser device to develop a computer model of the surface.

The team used the model in computer simulations to develop actual patterned surfaces to test which patterns perform best. Erosion tests were conducted in the simple erosion wind tunnel for groove surface bionic samples at various impact conditions.

Their results showed that a series of small grooves at a 30-degree angle to the flowing gas or liquid give steel surfaces the best protection from erosion.

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