By monitoring a scourge to seafaring - how the larvae of acorn barnacles locate suitable spots to attach to the bottoms of ships - researchers at Linköping University in Sweden have managed to design surfaces that prevent growths without utilizing poisonous chemicals.

These marine animals can cover a vessel's hull with the hard calcium shells so much that the ship moves slowly and uses excessive fuel. In the past, toxic paint contained the now-banned substance tributhyl, and since, no viable alternative has been discovered.


"Our strategy, instead, is to design surfaces that the barnacle glue doesn't stick to. The idea is for the larvae to swim off and find another place to fasten themselves for the rest of their lives," says Tobias Ekblad, a molecular physics postgraduate who is associated with the EU project.

By hi tech studies of the micrometer sized "footprints" of barnacles, the study found that what determines whether the larvae prefer a surface is chemistry. Ekblad covered a material with a thin layer of water-filled gel and found that the polymer called polyethylene glycol yielded excellent results.

Their work correlating to this has also focused of how blood coagulates on various surfaces. This presents a problem when prostheses are operated into the body. Much as in the barnacle growth project, they have found that the usable materials are those that dramatically decrease the binding of proteins to the surface.