Tech by VICE

Ants' Grooming Combs Could Hold the Key to Cleaning Nanogadgets

Mimicking the bugs’ natural cleaning abilities could help scientists clean sensitive electronics.

by John Ambrosio
Jul 27 2015, 6:00pm

Ants are having a real red-letter week. In addition to a number one box office spot for Ant-Man—so far the only superhero movie with a central role for ants—ants were lauded by researchers today thanks to their natural micro-filtering abilities, which they say could have important applications for nanotech. Way to go, ants.

In a video from the Cambridge University Department of Zoology, Cambridge's Alexander Hackmann explains that ants, contrary to what one might think, are quite fastidious, and have developed a sophisticated way to clean their vital antennae.

"Ants have evolved a special cleaning structure on their forelegs on which they clamp their antennae and pull them through," Hackmann said. "The cleaning structure consists of three different zones: the bristles and the comb remove the largest particles mechanically. Smaller contaminants that make it through these first two filtering steps then adhere to the brush hairs."

Hackmann, a researcher at the Insect Biomechanics Workgroup at Cambridge, said this structure could be used as a model by researchers looking to develop a way to clean electronics and circuitry that is equally susceptible to dirt and tiny particles.

"We hope that understanding the biomechanical principles of these cleaning structures will help us design bio-inspired cleaning devices for cleaning on micro and nanoscale," Hackmann said.