Beetle defence inspires University of Leeds research

Bombardier beetle The beetle can turn its spray in virtually any direction and hit its target with extreme accuracy

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The deadly defence system of a tiny African beetle has inspired award-winning research into a new generation of technology.

The 2cm (0.8in) long Bombardier beetle defends itself with toxic steam which it can blast up to 20cm (8in).

A team of scientists from the University of Leeds have developed a technology which is based on the beetle's spray mechanism.

They say it may lead to improvements in the automotive and health industries.

The team's work has received the outstanding contribution to innovation and technology title at the Times Higher Education awards in London.

The award was given to the university and the Swedish Biomimetics 3000 company, which has sponsored the project.

Needle-free injections

The chemical and physical characteristics of the spray and the insect's physiology were simulated using a scaled-up experimental rig, which uses heating and flash evaporation techniques to propel a variety of liquids up to 4m (13ft).

The university said the resulting technology was environmentally friendly, as it used a water-based spray system in place of the "damaging propellants found in traditional aerosol sprays".

The project took five years to develop from first concept to prototype.

The university said the new technology allowed droplet size, temperature and velocity to be closely controlled, "allowing advancements in a variety of areas where the properties of the mist is critical".

It said it could inspire new types of nebulisers, needle-free injections, fire extinguishers and powerful fuel injection systems.

The university's professor of thermodynamics and combustion theory, Andy McIntosh, who led the research team, said: "Nobody had studied the beetle from a physics and engineering perspective as we did, and we didn't appreciate how much we would learn from it."

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