The flightless birds may actually help airplanes be more safe, as their unique characteristics that help them survive in extremely cold weather could be used in airplane manufacturing, the researchers say.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) are looking at how the penguins’ water- and ice repellent feathers may help scientists create better de-icing technology for airplanes.
In Antarctica, temperatures can be as low as -135.8 degrees Fahrenheit (- 57.6 degrees Celsius), and the winds can reach speeds of almost 90 miles per hour (144.84 kilometres per hour). These conditions are far more extreme than any commercial airplane will ever have to face.
However, in some ‘miraculous’ way, penguins manage not to ice over, unlike many aircrafts in cold climates – which is a major problem that causes accidents or loss of control.
Pirouz Kavehpour, co-author of the research and a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that the feathers of penguins are extremely water repellent, or superhydrophobic. The structure of the penguins’ feathers may be used to design and build anti-icing surfaces for power lines, aircraft wings, rudders, flaps, and so on, Kavehpour added.
According to Professor Kavehpour, as he was watching a nature documentary, he saw that no ice was forming on the penguins’ feathers even when they were coming out of very cold water, and were then sitting in extremely cold temperatures.
Judy St. Leger, the Vice President for Research and Science with expertise in Veterinary Medicine at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, and Kavehpour looked at penguin feathers that they received from SeaWorld San Diego. They used a scanning electron microscope to analyse the feathers.
The researchers found that the penguins’ feathers had two characteristics that allowed the birds to withstand moisture and extremely cold temperatures without icing over.
Their feathers had tiny pores that trap air and make the feathers very efficient at preventing ice formation by repelling water. Moreover, the feathers were coated with hydrophobic oil that also made them extremely water-repellent.
Researchers looked at feathers of Magellanic penguins, which live in countries with warmer climate like Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, and the gentoo penguins, which live on the ice-cold continent of Antarctica, as well as in the most southern parts of South America.
Gentoo penguins have smaller pores and their feathers were coated with more water-repellent oil, the researchers found.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that between 1995 and 2000, approximately 8 percent of all airplane accidents occurred because of ice formation, which is why future airplanes may have lubricants and pitted, superhydrophobic surfaces to prevent them from icing over.
Image Source: penguins-world