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article imageStudying ants for clues about ultra-fine cleaning

By Tim Sandle     Jul 29, 2015 in Science
Blue-sky thinking researchers have taken inspiration from the way that ants clean to develop improved procedures for nanotechnology. The ants studied are located in Borneo, Indonesia.
Ants and other insects need to keep clean. If they are not clean on their antennae then they cannot adequately sense food, find their way home, or communicate with each other. This means ants need to spend a lot of time keeping themselves clean. The mechanism by which this is done has interested scientists based at the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge.
The result of this biomechanical investigation has shown that ants deploy different types of hairs in their cleaning apparatus as a means to clean dirt off of their antennae. The aim is to use the findings to find new ways to keep nanotechnology devices clean. With nanotechnology tiny fragments of dust can cause untold damage on small, sensitive components.
It was found that Camponotus rufifemur ants have a specialized cleaning structure located on their front legs. These are used to groom their antennae. With the cleaning process, the antenna is pulled through and any particles are pulled away using physical appendages resembling “bristles,” a “comb” and a “brush.”
By filming this under powerful microscopes, researchers have gained a better understanding of the mechanisms involved. To make this, clearer fluorescent particles were added so the precise processes could be observed. Each part of the bristle, comb and brush process deals with smaller particles (so the bristle part sweeps away the largest particles and the brush deals with the smallest.)
Noting that the "bristles," "combs" and "brush" arrangement lets the cleaning structure work as a precise particle filter, the Cambridge research group plan to develop ting cleaning devices to clean nanotechnology devices and micro-circuits. The three-way process should be efficient for a very effective cleaning process.
The findings have been published in the journal Open Science. The paper is titled “Functional morphology and efficiency of the antenna cleaner in Camponotus rufifemur ants.”
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