Poison Dart Frogs Could Inspire New Way Of De-Icing Planes

Open Jaw

An engineering professor believes that brightly coloured, highly venomous tropical frogs could inspire a new method of de-icing airplanes.

Konrad Rykaczewski, an associate professor at Arizona State University, designed an anti-icing “skin" for planes after being inspired by the way the frogs store and release venom through their own skins.

Rykaczewski has been working on alternate ways to de-ice planes since 2012. A vacation in Panama inspired his new approach.

“I was travelling and got to see the poison dart frog in the wild. The functionality of poison-release on demand was exactly what I wanted to do with antifreeze, and having a 2-layer skin instead of a single textured layer was a clever way to do that."

Rykaczewski's proposal, detailed in the latest Advanced Materials Interfaces journal, involves coating aircraft wings in 2 paper-thin layers of “skin," a top, hydrophobic layer that would repel frozen water droplets during flight and a 2nd layer that contained antifreeze, in case the top layer failed.

During lab tests, the skin was able to resist ice buildup for a full hour, a huge improvement from the roughly 1 minute of ice-prevention displayed by “typical" hydrophobic coatings.

When the surface starts icing over, pores on the top layer fill up with condensate or ice and make contact with the antifreeze. Due to the contact, the antifreeze starts melting ice and diffusing. A major benefit – the release of antifreeze happens by itself and does not require external input from an operator.

Rykaczewski says that it could be years before his “optimal arctic frog skin" comes to an airport near you, but he hopes to continue testing the product by using drones flown in the Arctic.

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