Inspired by a box of withered passion fruit, Chinese scientists have invented a device that could potentially be used to remove space junk. Researchers at Fudan University in Shanghai and Tsinghua University in Beijing have developed a soft silicone ball with a bumpy texture that resembles the wrinkled skin of a dried passion fruit.
According to scientists, the deep wrinkles on the device’s surface can grip various objects and even be used to clean up tiny particles of space debris floating in orbit. The simple and agile devices can be made in sizes from millimeters to meters and can be deployed in places where humans cannot reach, said Xu Fan, a professor at .
“A robotic arm equipped with a Sphere Grasper can collect small space debris with high precision,” said Xu. “On Earth, you can pick up dangerous particles, such as explosives.”
According to NASA, there are about 500,000 marble-sized pieces in Earth’s orbit, and 100 million pieces as small as the tip of a pencil orbiting Earth. Even small debris, such as flakes of paint from a rocket, can damage a spacecraft as they collide at such high velocities in low Earth orbit.
The idea started with a box of fruit I had in my office. His Xu colleague in Tsinghua called and saw some interesting patterns forming in the withered produce, so the scientist dehydrated passion his fruit to observe them. started. When they were studying how the ridges deepened as the fruit dried, they were inspired to mimic the patterns in the lab and use their observations. They found that the ridge pattern can “grab” things thanks to a property called “chirality.”