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Materialica Gold Award for the Plant Biomechanics Group

Researchers have designed an “intelligent detergent dispenser” for washing machines - inspired by the nose of the hammerhead shark

Freiburg, Oct 17, 2019

Materialica Gold Award for the Plant Biomechanics Group

Bio-inspired detergent drawer with sensor mounting for washing machines. Photo: Plant Biomechanics Group

The University of Freiburg’s Plant Biomechanics Group and their long-term project partner, E.G.O. Elektro-Gerätebau GmbH, have received the Materialica Gold Award 2019 in the Surface and Technology category for their entry, the “detergent drawer with sensor mounting for washing machines.”

Consumers today are demanding ever-greater energy efficiency and better results than ever before from their washing machines.  This can be achieved only with the help of sensors. The best place to put them is in the detergent drawer which dispenses the washing powder. The water flows through the drawer, washing the washing powder into the drum. However, it flows so fast that until now, sensors were unable to take measurements reliably there.

Bionics has provided a new approach. The olfactory organ in the hammerhead shark has channels which slow down the water flowing through it sufficiently for the organ to perceive the aromas in it. The research team used this natural model to 3D-print a new washing machine detergent drawer which diverts some of the water off into small channels, slowing it down. Up to five sensors mounted in the channels can measure, for instance, the pH value of the washing water, or how strongly the water has been polluted by microfibers washed out of the clothing. The process does not use up any extra resources because the water is channeled back into the drum. This way, the state of the washing water can be ascertained in real time during the washing cycle and transmitted online.

The Plant Biomechanics Group prize winners are Professor Dr. Thomas Speck, Dr. Georg Bold, Dr. Tim Kampowski, Max Langer, Dr. Tom Masselter and Dr. Marc Thielen.


Further information


Professor Dr. Thomas Speck
Plant Biomechanics Group / Botanical Gardens
University of Freiburg
Phone: 0761/203-2875