Insect Wing Project (Cicada, Dragonfly, Fly)

Natural materials, including insect wing surfaces, feature a variety of structural micro/nano-features responsible for unique functions, such as superhydrophobicity and antibacterial properties. To discern the roles of surface feature architecture and chemical composition on surface functionality, we study the wings of various species of cicadas, dragonflies, and flies. We characterize the correlations between the molecular composition of surface features and layers, the morphology of the different structures on the wings, and the functionality of the wings in an effort to rationally design novel engineered materials.

Biofouling is a prevalent and unwanted phenomenon in medical and industrial settings. Insects provide us with inspiration for creating surfaces that can deter bacterial contamination. Cicada wings possess many nano protrusions which are called nanopillars. They can puncture bacterial cell walls, conferring exceptional anti-bacterial properties. To transfer these surface features onto engineering materials, we use a high-fidelity, flexible, and versatile nanoscale replication method (DT-NIL: dissolvable template nanoimprint lithography) to replicate cicada wings. We successfully created templates using metals (copper, titanium, etc.) and polymers (PDMS, etc.). These engineered templates have a wide range of use in our everyday lives and can be actively applied to medical devices and HAVC system filters, greatly improving human life qualities. Our study opens the study to the guided design of insect-inspired materials with highly desired functionalities such as bactericidal surfaces.

Joe Palca’s Interview with Marianne Alleyne about our cicada wing project for “All Things Considered: (November 12th, 2020)

Project Lead

Yutao Chen


  • Dr. Donald M. Cropek – Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, United States Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Champaign, IL
  • Dr. Nenad Miljkovic – MechSE – the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Insect Wing Project Team members: Marianne Alleyne, Junho Oh, Nenad Miljkovic, and Catherine Dana. Not pictured: Kristen Reiter
Insect Wing Project Team members: Sungmin Hong, Jessica Roman, and Don Cropek. Not pictured: Kyoo Jo, Jacob Hoffman, Andrew Gonsalves, and Julian Reed