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I’m sure we have different opinions about the rains. The wettest place on earth is Mawsynram, in the Indian state of Meghalaya which receives more than 467 inches of rain annually. In New York, the average annual rainfall amounts to about 46.25 inches. Mumbai receives close to 94 inches of rain annually on average. The average annual rainfall in the Sahara Desert is just 3 inches. That’s quite less since it’s a desert. But in the Namib Desert region, it only rains for about half an inch on an average, annually! The earth’s surface is made of 70% water in the form of oceans and rivers, 99% oh which is saltwater. Hence, it's not feasible to drink. So, a mere 0.7% of all the water present on earth is available to use for all 100% of the plant and animal species! I hope the comparison I made about average annual rainfall in different areas and the availability and distribution of water was overwhelming because this story is surprising as much.

“Water, water everywhere but not a single drop to drink!”

Animals in deserts have little water to begin with, not to mention the lengths they have to walk to find it. One such animal is the African beetle found in the Namib region, which has found an ingenious solution to this problem by climbing the dunes every morning to find water. One would wonder how water is even found on top of mountains let alone sand mountains. “The desert beetle has evolved to take perfect advantage of the tiny amount of water available in the desert. The fog that drifts over the Namib Desert is so light that normal condensation can't take place, so you need something specially designed to hold and collect that condensation," said Michael Rubner, Professor of Polymer Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. These beetles catch small water droplets from the morning fog atop the dunes every morning by facing away from the wind and collecting the condensing water on their back into small pouches that can hold up to 12% of their body weight enough for survival during the day.

Inspired by this approach, MIT researchers led by Robert Cohen, the St. Laurent Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Michael Rubner, the TDK Professor of Polymer Materials Science and Engineering have designed a new material that collects tiny amounts of water. It’s a combination of superhydrophobic (water-repelling) surface and super hydrophilic (water-attracting) bumps that can control water flow which can be collected in a container. Potential applications for the new material include harvesting water, making a lab on a chip (for diagnostics and DNA screening), and creating microfluidic devices and cooling devices.

Another scientist, Deckard Sorensen, has designed a self-filling water bottle inspired by the beetles. To convert the beetle's natural ability into human-usable technology, Sorenson coated a surface with hydrophilic and hydrophobic coatings and then used a fan to pass air over the surface. The water condensed on the surface and, eventually, Sorenson was able to create a self-filling water bottle. "We see this being applicable to anything from marathon runners to people in third-world countries because we realize that water is such a large issue in the world today, and we want to try to alleviate those problems with a cost-efficient solution. We are looking to incorporate this in greenhouses or green roofs in the immediate future and then, later on, we’re looking to see how far we can scale this up to supply maybe farms or larger agricultural goals," Sorenson told the PRI.

Thank you, Robert Cohen, Michael Rubner, and Deckard Sorensen, for your research and contribution to humanity.

Understanding nature and its meticulous efforts in the form of evolution of different species that thrive in different environments has given us millions of years of research and development, as we can call it. Hence, it only makes sense to take advantage of such an invaluable resource to design better products and solve many of our problems. Biomimicry is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature to solve complex human problems.

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Thank you so much for reading!

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