When engineers look at mussels, they’re typically looking in awe at how they anchor themselves to nearly every surface imaginable, all while under water. The fibers they use to attach themselves are incredibly strong, and the adhesive works wet or dry on all sorts of materials. For the most part, engineers are looking to create a substance with similar properties.
This week, however, brings an exception: engineers who want to try to keep mussels from sticking to everything. Zebra mussels, a species that has invaded the Great Lakes, is estimated to cost utilities hundreds of millions of dollars each year due to clogged pipes and intakes. Ships, buoys, and pretty much anything else we put in the water also ends up needing to have mussels cleared off.
The international team behind the new work has designed a material that mussels can’t seem to get a grip on. It’s not because the mussel’s adhesive fail; instead, the mussel itself doesn’t seem to know what it’s touching when it’s set down on the material.