Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Previous section

Nanotech and Medicine

It makes sense that some of the smallest animals on Earth are inspiring some of our smallest inventions in the field of nanotechnology.

You’ve probably seen all sorts of insects whizzing through the air when you’re outside, but did you know that their wings hold a secret to fighting bacteria?


While they may look thin and see-through at first, scientists have discovered that the surfaces of insects’ wings are covered in thousands of microscopic spines or rod shapes. These spikes tear apart any bacteria unlucky enough to land on the wings, killing them and preventing infection, so engineers are looking for ways to recreate materials that can do this too.

By studying insects in this way we might be able to create anti-bacterial surfaces that don’t need to use chemicals to deal with super-microbes (ones resistant to medicines) and could be useful in places like hospitals.

Close up photo of wing of a Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)
Honey Bee Wing

Lots of creepy crawlies are also known for their powerful, compound eyes. Think of a dragonfly or even a house fly and you can probably imagine their huge, golf-ball eyes that are very different to our own.

Made up of hundreds of tiny lenses (rather than one big one like humans have), insect compound eyes can capture lots of light and are very efficient at dong so. By copying this structure scientists have been able to come up with ways to make solar panels better and more efficient and have even looked at how we can use fly’s-eye lenses in building more powerful telescopes for looking into space!

Close up photo of compound eye of Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)
Honey Bee Compound Eye