Airdate: Sep 21, 2009
Scientist: Dr. Christopher Viney
KSC Biomimicry - Hippo Sweat
If you want to protect yourself from the sun, insects, and disease, just slather on some hippo sweat!
CV: "We're at the San Diego Zoo in front of the hippos' underwater enclosure, and we are seeing an underwater view of a hippo. Look very closely and you will see there are places where it looks like there are even glands opening up on the skin, and these are places which produce a very interesting oily secretion, which is hippopotamus sweat."
Imagine heading out for a picnic armed against the sun, bugs, and germs with nothing more than some reconstituted hippo sweat. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Hippopotami secrete a sweat-like liquid with some rather impressive characteristics. Christopher Viney is an engineer at the University of California; and he studies this remarkable substance.
CV: "We've discovered in the lab that it's a sunblock, which means that it really reflects the sunlight as well. It stops the sun in two ways. It absorbs and renders harmless, and it also reflects. But it's not just a sun protectant. It seems to be an insect repellent as far as we can tell, because hippos in the wild, they tend to be covered in poo a lot of the time, and you can imagine if you were covered in poo, you'd probably be covered in flies, as well. Flies are just about everywhere else. They're on the elephant. They're on the giraffe, but you never see them on the pooey hippo. And there's one other property, which is that it does seem to be a rather powerful antiseptic. So, you've got a sunscreen, a sunblock, an antiseptic, and an insect repellent all rolled into one product. So, you know, I'm fascinated by this stuff. I do research on it, because I'm trying to understand about how the molecules are organized; how one might start to make something that replicates that same kind of structure in an artificial material."
Christopher Viney is one of the participants in the Kids' Science Challenge, our nationwide competition for third to sixth graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. A new competition launches October first at kidsciencechallenge.com.
I'm Jim Metzner.