Contacts: Jan-Henning DirksDr. Walter Federle & Cristofer Clemente, Department of Zoology
Mentor: Dr. Mark Priest

he team of researchers in Zoology has used advanced optical techniques to identify the adhesion process by which insects are able to stick to surfaces, a mechanism which uses a secreted emulsion of water in oily fluid. They have then used this understanding to identify surfaces which are highly slippery to insects, and which could act as a cheap, environmentally safe insect repellant surface.

Existing insect repellant surfaces work by particles that detach when the insect tries to climb them, so that the surface compound needs to be re-applied regularly and also can easily contaminate clothes, hands and other surfaces. The newly identified repellant compounds provide a much more permanent solution, which have the additional advantage of being non-toxic.

The researchers now need to decide how best to use this patented method commercially. This will include investigating where the compound might be used, and also how it might best be delivered. As an example, it might be possible to develop an insect-repellant paint for outdoor furniture and buildings, an insect-repellant spray coating for use in kitchens or medical environments, or other products for other uses. Each of these uses and delivery mechanisms will put restrictions and requirements onto the slippery compound, which are important to identify at an early stage. The i-Team will also need to look at the commercial route to market for each application. For example, would this be marketed as a chemical additive for existing paints and varnishes to companies such as paint manufacturers, or should the researchers work directly with paint manufacturers to develop new products incorporating the compound. The i-Team’s challenge is to investigate the different applications and commercialisation options and recommend the best way forward.