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ENVIRONMENT REPORT – March 14, 2003: Water-Resistant Material Copies Lotus Plant - 2003-03-13

This is the VOA Special English Environment Report.

Lotus plants and the pure white flower they produce have spiritual meaning in some Asian religions. The lotus has also appealed to scientists for its ability to resist water and stay clean. Now, Turkish scientists say they have discovered a low-cost way to make a plastic material that acts like the lotus.

The Turkish group studied the chemical structure of leaves from the plant called the sacred lotus. They wanted to recreate the ability of lotus leaves to resist water.

Water drops normally flatten and spread out when they fall on a surface. But the rough surface of lotus leaves prevents this from happening. When water drops hit the surface of the lotus leaf, they stay round. As a result, the water drops roll off the leaves. Dirt rolls off with the water. That makes the plant self-cleaning.

The Turkish scientists say the process they developed is easy to reproduce. They believe it could have many uses in the future. The water-resistant substance could be added to the outsides of airplanes. This could help prevent the formation of ice on the wings in winter. Heavy ice is a serious danger for airplanes. The substance could be put on ships to help them break through icy waters more easily.

The scientists say the protective covering they created could also be used to keep water off clothing. It could protect antennas from snow and ice. These can interfere with the operation of radios and other electronic systems. It could even protect traffic signs from weather damage.

The Turkish group described its findings in a report in Science magazine. The scientists are from Koc University in Istanbul and Kocaeli University in Izmit. They created their material from a simple, common plastic. It is called isotactic polypropylene. The scientists broke down this plastic with an organic solvent. A solvent is a liquid that breaks down other substances.

Then, the researchers added other chemicals to the mixture. They let the liquid harden on a glass surface. The liquid formed a thin plastic. Under a microscope, this new plastic looks like a combination of sticks and balls. The scientists say water drops form small balls on the new plastic, just as they would on lotus leaves.

Other scientists have praised the findings of the Turkish team. They say the discovery shows a simple way to protect surfaces from water damage.

This VOA Special English Environment Report was written by George Grow.