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Researchers draw inspiration from pig snouts to design novel air filter technologies

Concept filter deriving its inspiration from the complex morphology of a pig’s nose. Credit: South Dakota State University
Concept filter deriving its inspiration from the complex morphology of a pig’s nose. Credit: South Dakota State University

Researchers at South Dakota State University have taken inspiration from pig snouts to develop novel air filter technologies. Saikat Basu, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the university, is leading the research that looks to develop engineering filtration and thermal conditioning devices based on expressions from the animal's nose. Pigs have evolved to adapt to a variety of climates, and their snouts must filter out harmful particles effectively due to their feeding habits. Basu and his team are working to design air filters that are competent at removing harmful particles while remaining energy efficient. The research has implications for face masks and air conditioning systems.

Improved air filtration a priority

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, researchers are looking to improve air filtration systems in a variety of settings. The virus is spread through the air, and understanding how filtration can better capture harmful particles is crucial in mitigating the spread. Improving air filtration systems is a priority for Basu and his team.

Collaborative research

For the current research, Basu collaborated with Sunghwan Jung from Cornell University and Leonardo Chamorro from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Previously, the team had collaborated on the NSF-supported project that designed filters inspired by animal noses, including pigs, possums and dogs. In the current study, the researchers performed CT scans on pigs to better understand the anatomy of their noses, which served as the blueprint for the filter models.

Heat transfer and filtration

One of the key findings from the simulations was the difference in heat transfer between different areas in the anatomic structures. As air moves through the nasal passages, the heat transfer decreases. Basu found that the model based on the pig's nose provided a good amount of heat transfer, a crucial element in air conditioning filters, and was able to capture almost all particles beyond 10 microns. However, as the particles got smaller, the efficiency of capturing them decreased.

Particle capture remains an issue

Despite the advances in air filtration technology, capturing small particles, such as those that can cause respiratory issues, remains a challenge. The researchers found that particles under 10 microns were not effectively filtered by the pig nose-inspired model. However, Basu and his team are continuing to work on designing air filters that can capture these smaller particles effectively.

Implications for face masks and air conditioning systems

The research has implications for the design of air filters in a variety of settings. The team's previous research had focused on designing filters for face masks, and the current study has implications for air conditioning systems as well. By taking inspiration from nature, researchers hope to develop air filtration systems that are more energy efficient and better at capturing harmful particles.

Journal Information: Jisoo Yuk et al, Morphology of pig nasal structure and modulation of airflow and basic thermal conditioning, Integrative and Comparative Biology (2023). DOI: 10.1093/icb/icad005

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