"Assume a completely frictionless surface." How many times did we see that statement in our high-school physics class? And how many times did we wonder why our teachers were so eager to have us live in a fantasy world? Now, thanks to a group of scientists known as tribologists, the prospect of eliminating friction between two interacting surfaces is fast becoming a reality.
It's being done in interesting ways, too. For example, a team of researchers at Harvard University studied the carnivorous pitcher plant's leaves, which feature microscopic ridges that trap a layer of liquid nectar between them. The surface is so slippery that insects landing on the leaves slide off and fall into deep, pitcher-shaped pouches, where enzymes gobble them up. Back in the lab, the researchers duplicated the slippery slope of the pitcher plant by creating a random network of water-repellent nanoposts and Teflon-coated nanofibers and then soaking them in a fluorine-rich liquid. The liquid formed a layer between the nanostructures, preventing water and other materials from flowing between them and creating a nearly nonstick surface.
What can frictionless surfaces do for you? Well, we've all flipped a few eggs on nonstick skillets, but that's just the tip of a super-slick iceberg.