Slug ©123RF
Slug ©123RF

Why slugs will help your flight take off on time

31 March 2016

Slugs’ uncanny ability to repel dirt was the inspiration for a new technology that could make de-icing of aircraft wings a thing of the past.

Japanese scientists have reported to the American Chemical Society that they have developed a substance which will make ice simply slide off aircraft wings without the need for costly and time-consuming de-icing procedures.

A slick substance – inspired by slugs’ dirt-repellent qualities – would be secreted in sub-zero temperatures which would make wings and other surfaces so slippery that ice cannot stick to them. The substance would turn into an unobtrusive film as temperatures rise.

The shell-less molluscs have even inspired the acronym for the technology - self-lubricating organogels, or “SLUGs”.

“We came upon this idea when we observed real slugs,” said Chihiro Urata, of Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science & Technology.

“Slugs live underground in soils when it is daytime and crawl out at night. But we never see slugs covered in dirt. They secrete a liquid mucus on their skin, which repels dirt, and the dirt slides off. From this, we started focusing on the phenomenon called syneresis, the expulsion of liquid from a gel.”

The gel and liquid-repellent substance are held in a matrix of silicone resin.

Urata said other potential applications for the technology included anti-fouling coatings in packaging, paints, ship bottoms and metal mouldings.

The team is also field testing SLUGs coating on signage in Japan’s northern counties to prevent ice accumulation.

Their research is being funded by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

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