Springtails – promising templates for robust omniphobic and anti-fouling surfaces

Published on July 15, 2014

Springtails (Collembola) are one of the most abundant animal groups on earth, living in virtually all habitats. Due to the fact that they do not breath like other arthropods via trachea but instead by diffusion of oxygen through the skin, a dry and clean surface is one of the requirements for survival.


Especially in soil dwelling species or those that live in or on water, highly non-wettable and anti-adhesive surfaces are of great importance. As a consequence, springtails are equipped with the most effective surfaces with respect to wettability repelling not only water, but also oil and several organic solvents, such as chloroform, ethanol, or hexadecane. The specific hierarchical structure based on a hexagonal pattern of nanostructures can be replicated and may serve as a new type of functional surfaces in the future.

Neinhuis & Werner Group | TU and IPF Dresden, Germany

Carsten Werner and Christoph Neinhuis jointly started this project with in the frame of an interdisciplinary research initiative aiming at transferring biological principles into technical applications.

Dr. Ralf Helbig has studied Physics at the TU Dresden and made his thesis about the wetting and fouling characteristics of springtails in close teamwork with Dipl.-Ing René Hensel and Dipl.-Biol. Julia Nickerl under the supervision of Prof. Carsten Werner in the Leibniz-Institute of Polymer Research Dresden e.V. and Prof. Christoph Neinhuis in the Institute of Botany TU Dresden.

Dipl-Biol. Julia Nickerl has studied Biology at the TU Dresden. In her diploma thesis she studied the cuticle morphology of 40 different springtail species and compared them to their preferential habitat. Her current PhD work is focused on the chemical analysis of the springtail cuticle and mimicking of the non-fouling surface properties on synthetic materials.

After vocational training as gardener Christoph Neinhuis studied biology in Bonn, where he also finished his dissertation. After additional postdoc years he got his habilitation and subsequently moved to the University of Cologne. Since 2002 Christoph Neinhuis is professor for botany and director of the botanic garden of the Technical University of Dresden.

Ulrich Burkhardt is the project coordinator of the soil-zoological information system EDAPHOBASE, a taxonomic-ecological database system. It combines existing taxonomical primary data on soil organisms from collections, scientific literature and reports etc. originating from many research institutes and persons involved in soil zoology.


Helbig, R., Nickerl, J., Neinhuis, C., & Werner, C.; Smart skin patterns protect springtails,
PloS one. 2011 6(9), doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025105

Nickerl, J., Helbig, R., Schulz, H. J., Werner, C., & Neinhuis, C.; Diversity and potential correlations to the function of Collembola cuticle structures,
Zoomorphology 2013 132 (2), 183-195, doi:10.1007/s00435-012-0181-0

Hensel, R., Helbig, R., Aland, S., Braun, H. G., Voigt, A., Neinhuis, C., & Werner, C. ; Wetting resistance at its topographical limit: the benefit of mushroom and serif T structures.
Langmuir 2013 29 (4), 1100-1112, doi:10.1021/la304179b

Hensel, R., Helbig, R., Aland, S., Voigt, A., Neinhuis, C., & Werner, C.; Tunable nano-replication to explore the omniphobic characteristics of springtail skin.
NPG Asia Materials 2013 5 (2), e37, doi:10.1038/am.2012.66

Hensel, R., Finn, A., Helbig, R., Braun, H. G., Neinhuis, C., Fischer, W. J., & Werner, C.;
Functional Surfaces: Biologically Inspired Omniphobic Surfaces by Reverse Imprint Lithography 13/2014).
(Adv. Mater. 2014 13, 2028, doi:10.1002/adma.201470086

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