Philip Webber

Water's Tough Skin

Liz is a staff writer for Science.

Surface tension is a force to be reckoned with, especially if you are small. It enables a water strider to skate along the water's surface and not sink. It makes water cling like quicksand to ants unlucky enough to blunder in. Biologists have tended to ignore the air-water interface, but at a recent symposium, the power of surface tension became clear and not just for small creatures. Surface tension helps seeds bury themselves by causing awns to coil and uncoil. It enables a floating fern to maintain an air layer, even when submerged. And it makes a beetle fly in two dimensions, not three. Surface tension also allows human and agricultural pathogens to travel long distances in tiny, buoyant droplets. We hardly notice surface tension, but it plays a big role in life at large.

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Posted in Plants & Animals, Environment, Biology, Physics, Biology