Of the almost 5,000 species of frogs around the world, one of them hops immediately to Hadi Ghasemi’s attention. You might wonder why the Bill D. Cook Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering has amphibians on his mind when he is so clearly a man versed in mechanics.
For Ghasemi, who is freezing out the competition in the field of anti-icing surfaces and has created better than state-of-the-art materials to repel ice, the link is this: Wood frogs are part of a small group of animals that can freeze, but not die. The species can tolerate freezing of 65 percent of their total body water and still survive in the winter.
So Ghasemi thought if frogs can do it, then he can, too.
He studied the frogs and built a new anti-icing material than can withstand critically low temperatures. His newly created adaptive surface works like a pair of glasses that change to sunglasses when you walk outdoors. In this case, Ghasemi’s material performs normally at ambient temperatures, but when exposed to extreme cold, it becomes an ant-icing surface.
For this innovating idea, Ghasemi has been chosen as one of the top 25 finalists of the NASA iTech Cycle 2 initiative, an effort to “find innovative ideas that address challenges that will fill gaps in critical areas identified by NASA as having a potential impact on future space exploration,” according to NASA.
“We think the idea of these anti-icing surfaces selected by NASA can be revolutionary for the aerospace industry,” said Ghasemi. “We are delighted we can make contributions to future NASA missions.”
Research jumping off the page
Ghasemi says a vast domain of knowledge has been overlooked and is hidden inside of living species.
“We got the idea of these surfaces through nature. It is bio-inspired,” said Ghasemi. “The wood frogs can tolerate the freezing of their blood and tissues while being alive. When we looked closely at the cell biology of these frogs we observed that the ice formation was restricted to the surface of their cells.”
That means they protect themselves from freezing.
So he decided to use this knowledge of wood frogs to develop the new material that can have the same adaptive properties.
Developing a product based on animals is not as odd as it may seem. Ghasemi points to an adhesive material developed at UMass Amherst based on the mechanics of gecko feet, which was named one of the top five science breakthroughs of 2012 by CNN Money. In theory, if you applied GeckSkin to your hands you might be able to wall crawl like Spiderman. Or a gecko.
But this is the first time someone has based a low-temperature material on a frog.
“We think we can develop new surfaces for the next generation of aircrafts and any infrastructure that is going to stand at really low temperatures subject to freezing,” said Ghasemi.
Only from the mind of Ghasemi can cold-blooded creatures warm up outer space.