"They're very good at what they do, says ONR's Paul Armistead. Powerful even. They work fast, possess a tenacity that is remarkable, make it look easy, and they've been at it since the beginning of time. What's more, they do it underwater. Billions of them glue themselves to ship hulls and cost the U.S. Navy over $50 million a year in fuel costs alone due to friction and drag. What's worse is that each of the Navy's ships are obliged to be cleaned in port yearly sometimes even more frequently.
We're talking the humble barnacle.
Historically, everything from pitch to pesticides has been used, but nothing seems to repel completely this lowly, but determined crusty fouler.
Now consider the sleek, smooth dolphin, which can spend its entire life in the water and never host a single barnacle, while a ship also designed with a smooth, sleek hull can develop a bad case of them in less than a month.
"Often much can be gained by studying and mimicking biological solutions that have evolved over eons." said Armistead.
As manager of ONR's Polymer Chemistry program, Armistead supports Karen Wooley, a polymer chemist and professor at Washington University in St. Louis who has dedicated her young life to a study of finding ways to provoke interactions between biological systems and synthetic materials. She designs chemical "functionalities," or groups of atoms that either promote or discourage binding between them.
"Over the years, Navy research into antifouling hull coatings has increasingly focused on non-toxic approaches or 'fouling release' coatings. An obvious first choice in this approach is Teflon-like coatings, but barnacles are able to get a good grip on these fluoropolymers," says Armistead.
For ONR, Wooley decided that rather than look traditionally at smooth fluoropolymer surfaces to keep fouling critters from attaching themselves to surfaces, she would create surfaces that were a complex andPage: 1 2 3 Related biology news :1
Contact: Gail S. Cleere
Office of Naval Research
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