Clogged printer nozzles waste time and money whilst reducing print quality. To clear a blocked nozzle in most inkjet printers, a burst of fresh ink breaks through the crust of dried ink which often forms if the machine isn't used correctly or frequently.
Over time, this method of removing the blockage can waste large amounts of expensive ink.
Jae Wan Kwon, associate professor in the College of Engineering, said: "The eye and an inkjet nozzle have a common problem: they must not be allowed to dry while, simultaneously, they must open. We used bio mimicry, the imitation of nature, to solve human problems."
This innovative new nozzle uses a droplet of silicone to cover the opening of the nozzle when not in use. This is similar to the film of oil that keeps a thin layer of moisture from evaporating off the eye. Due to the tiny scale of the inkjet nozzle mechanical 'eyelids' would not work, as they would become stuck in place by surface tension. Instead, the droplet of oil for the nozzle is moved in and out of place by an electric field.