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Wilhelm Barthlott

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Wilhelm Barthlott

Wilhelm Barthlott (born 1946 in Forst, Germany) is a German botanist and biomimetic materials scientist. His official botanical author citation is Barthlott.

Barthlott's areas of specialization are biodiversity (global distribution, assessment, and change in biodiversity) and bionics/biomimetics (in particular, superhydrophobic biological surfaces and their technical applications).

He is one of the pioneers in the field of biological and technical interfaces. Based on his systematic research on plant surfaces, he discovered the self-cleaning (lotus effect)[1] biological surfaces and developed superhydrophobic technical surfaces for different applications (e.g. Salvinia effect and oil-water-separation). The Bartlott Effects[2] led to a paradigm shift and disruptive technologies in material science and facilitated the development of superhydrophobic biomimetic surfaces. His map of the global biodiversity distribution is the foundation for numerous research topics. Barthlott has been honored with many awards (e. g. the German Environmental Prize) and memberships in academies (e. g. the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina). A large red-flowering tropical shrub, Barthlottia madagascariensis, and other plants are named after him.


Barthlott descends from a French Huguenot family, which arrived with Jacques Barthelot in 1698 on the territory of the Maulbronn Monastery in Germany, where his mother's family houses had existed before 1500. Wilhelm Barthlott studied biology, physics, chemistry, and geography at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He earned his doctorate in 1973 with a dissertation supervised by Werner Rauh on systematics and biogeography of cacti investigated by means of scanning electron microscopy. He held a professorship at the Free University of Berlin at the Institute for Systematic Botany and Plant Geography from 1982 to 1985. In 1985 he became the chair of systematic botany at the Botanical Institute of the University of Bonn and also the director of the Botanical Garden. In 2003 he established the Nees Institute for Biodiversity of Plants as founding director. He was influential in the reorganization and expansion of both institutions.

Barthlott took emeritus status in 2011, and continued as the head of a long-running research project Biodiversität im Wandel (Biodiversity in Change). He is investigating biological and technical superhydrophobic interfaces within the scope of his research projects in biomimetics.

Barthlott published one of the most cited papers plant science[3] and materials science.[4] His work in materials science based on superhydrophobic lotus effect surfaces "can be considered the most famous inspiration from nature ... and has been widely applied ... in our daily life and industrial productions".[5]

Fields of work[edit]

Botanical Research[edit]

Barthlott has done extensive research focusing on Andean South America and Africa, in particular, on the taxonomy and morphology of cacti, orchids, bromeliads and the Titan Arum,[6] applying scanning electron microscopy and molecular methods. Barthlott's studies on carnivorous plants converged systematic and ecological research. These studies led to the discovery of the first protozoan trapping plant in the genus Genlisea.[7] This plants also exhibit one of the highest evolutionary rates and has the smallest known genome among all flowering plants.[8] The naming of Genlisea barthlottii pays tribute to his investigation in this regard. The shrub Barthlottia madagascariensis or the miniature titan arum (Amorphophallus barthlottii) and further species were named after him. Among his discoveries are the giant bromeliad Gregbrownia lyman-smithii and epiphytic cacti such as Rhipsalis juengeri, Pfeiffera miyagawae and Schlumbergera orssichiana or the succulent Peperomia graveolens. A complete list of plants can be found on the International Plant Names Index (IPNI) or in Plants of the World Online (POWO).

His biogeographic-ecological work was mostly conducted in South America, West Africa and Madagascar concentrating on arid regions,[9] epiphytes in tropical forest canopy,[10] as well as tropical inselbergs.[11] Additional works concentrated on the global mapping of biodiversity[12] and its macroecological dependencies on climate change[13] and other abiotic factors (Geodiversity),[14] including migration and globalization.[15] His Biodiversity Distribution Map has been published in numerous textbooks and has been the foundation for many postgraduate studies. In the framework of the BMBF-BIOTA-AFRICA[16] project, which was co-founded by him, the biodiversity patterns in Africa as a model continent were analyzed and potential impacts of climate change are investigated.

Bionics, biomimetics and materials science[edit]

Barthlott was the first botanist using high resolution scanning electron microscopy systematically in the research of biological surfaces since 1970. Most prominent among his results was the discovery of the self-cleaning effect of superhydrophobic micro- and nanostructured surfaces,[17][18][19] which were technically realized with the trademark "Lotus Effect" from 1998 on,[20] and resulting products distributed worldwide.[21][22] The patents and the trademark Lotus Effect[23] are owned by the company Sto-AG. Today about 2000 publications per year are based on his discovery, while the physics behind self-cleaning surfaces is still not completely understood.[24]

Currently, the research on biological interfaces and bionics is Barthlott's central area of interest.[25][26][27] He provided the first evidence that superhydrophobicity evolved probably as a "key innovation" for the land transition of life already in Precambrian cyanobacteria a billion years ago.[28] Ongoing research areas include air-retaining surfaces on the model of the floating fern Salvinia, which is based on a complex physical principle (Salvinia effect). Technical application of this effect is conceivable in shipping: By means of a reduction in frictional resistance ("passive air lubrication"), a 10% decrease in fuel consumption could potentially be achieved.[29] Another application is the oil-water-separation by adsorption and transportation of oil on air retaining surfaces.[30][31] Barthlott very early warned that the addition of surfactants within the global application of pesticides in agriculture disrupts the pathogen defense of crops and should be reduced[32]

Honors and awards[edit]

  • 1990 Member of the Academy of Science and Literature in Mainz[34]
  • 1991 Foreign member of the Linnean Society of London.
  • 1997 Member of the Academy of Science of North Rhine-Westphalia Düsseldorf
  • 1997 Karl-Heinz-Beckurts Award
  • 1998 Nomination for the German Future Innovation Award (Deutscher Zukunftspreis des Bundespräsidenten)
  • 1998 Order of Andrès Bello of President Rafael Caldera of the Republic of Venezuela
  • 1999 Member of the German National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina[35]
  • 1999 Philip Morris Award
  • 1999 German Environmental Prize (Deutscher Umweltpreis)[36]
  • 2001 Treviranus Medal of the Association of German Biologists (Verband Deutscher Biologen)
  • 2001 GlobArt Award (Austria)[37]
  • 2002 Cactus d'Or (Monaco)[38]
  • 2004 Scientist in Residence of the University Duisburg-Essen
  • 2005 Innovation Award of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research
  • 2006 Award of the university competition "Ingenious Inventors" (Hochschulwettbewerb Patente Erfinder) of North Rhine-Westphalia
  • 2007 Maecenas medal of the University of Bonn
  • 2010 – 2026 Director of the Board and one of the founding directors of the International Society of Bionic Engineering (ISBE)
  • The shrub Barthlottia madagascariensis and several other plants are named after Wilhelm Barthlott


Barthlott's publications comprise more than 480 titles, including many books. List in Google Scholar and World Library Catalogue

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ Video German Award for the Environment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_bRmB2RiU0
  2. ^ Vonna L. (2023). The Barthlott effect. Quantitative Plant Biology, 4, e16, Cambridge University Press Classics, https://dx.doi.org/10.1017/qpb.2023.15
  3. ^ White, P. J. (23 January 2018). "Citation classics in Plant Science since 1992". Botany One / Annals of Botany.
  4. ^ Vonna L. (2023). The Barthlott effect. Quantitative Plant Biology, 4, e16, Cambridge University Press Classics, https://dx.doi.org/10.1017/qpb.2023.15
  5. ^ Yu, Cunming; Sasic, Srdjan; Liu, Kai; Salameh, Samir; Ras, Robin H.A.; van Ommen, J. Ruud (March 2020). "Nature–Inspired self–cleaning surfaces: Mechanisms, modelling, and manufacturing". Chemical Engineering Research and Design. 155: 48–65. doi:10.1016/j.cherd.2019.11.038. S2CID 212755274.
  6. ^ Barthlott et al. (2009): A torch in the rainforest: thermogenesis of the Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum). Plant Biol. 11 (4): 499–505 doi:10.1111/j.1438-8677.2008.00147.x
  7. ^ Barthlott et al. (April 1998). "First protozoa-trapping plant found". Nature. 392 (6675): 447. Bibcode: 1998Natur.392Q.447B. doi:10.1038/33037. S2CID 4415405
  8. ^ Greilhuber, J. et al. (2006): Smallest angiosperm genomes found in Lentibulariaceae, with chromosomes of bacterial size. Plant Biol. 8: 770–777, doi:10.1055/s-2006-924101
  9. ^ Barthlott, W. et al. (2015): Biogeography and Biodiversity of Cacti. – Schumannia 7, pp. 1–205, ISSN 1437-2517
  10. ^ Köster, Nils; Nieder, Jürgen; Barthlott, Wilhelm (November 2011). "Effect of Host Tree Traits on Epiphyte Diversity in Natural and Anthropogenic Habitats in Ecuador: Effect of Host Tree Traits on Epiphyte Diversity". Biotropica. 43 (6): 685–694. doi:10.1111/j.1744-7429.2011.00759.x. S2CID 86711152.
  11. ^ Inselbergs. Ecological Studies. Vol. 146. 2000. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-59773-2. ISBN 978-3-642-64120-6. S2CID 263998814.
  12. ^ Kier, G.; Kreft, H.; Lee, T. M.; Jetz, W.; Ibisch, P. L.; Nowicki, C.; Mutke, J.; Barthlott, W. (9 June 2009). "A global assessment of endemism and species richness across island and mainland regions". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106 (23): 9322–9327. PNAS..106.9322K. doi:10.1073/pnas.0810306106. PMC 2685248. PMID 19470638
  13. ^ Sommer, Kreft, Kier; Jetz; Mutke,; Barthlott (7 August 2010). "Projected impacts of climate change on regional capacities for global plant species richness". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 277 (1692): 2271–2280. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.0120. PMC 2894901. PMID 20335215
  14. ^ Barthlott et al. (1996): Global distribution of species diversity in vascular plants: towards a world map of phytodiversity. Erdkunde 50: 317–327, doi:10.3112/erdkunde.1996.04.03
  15. ^ Barthlott, W. & Rafiqpoor, M.D. (2016): Biodiversität im Wandel – Globale Muster der Artenvielfalt. In: Lozán et al.: Warnsignal Klima: Die Biodiversität, pp. 44–50. In Kooperation mit GEO- Verlag. Wissenschaftliche Auswertungen. www.warnsignal-klima.de.
  16. ^ "BIOTA AFRICA". www.biota-africa.org. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  17. ^ Baeyer, H, C, von, (2000); The Lotus Effect. – The Sciences: J. New York Academy of Sciences 12–15, January 2000.
  18. ^ Wilhelm Barthlott (2023): The Discovery of the Lotus Effect as a Key Innovation for Biomimetic Technologies. - in: Handbook of Self-Cleaning Surfaces and Materials: From Fundamentals to Applications, Chapter 15, S. 359–369 - Wiley-VCH, doi:10.1002/9783527690688.ch15
  19. ^ Vonna L. (2023). The Barthlott effect. Quantitative Plant Biology, 4, e16, Cambridge University Press, https://dx.doi.org/10.1017/qpb.2023.15
  20. ^ Forbes, P. (2006) The Gecko's Foot. – Fourth Estate, HarperCollins, New York, 272 pp.
  21. ^ Barthlott, Wilhelm (2023). "Self-Cleaning Surfaces in Plants: The Discovery of the Lotus Effect as a Key Innovation for Biomimetic Technologies". Handbook of Self-Cleaning Surfaces and Materials. pp. 359–369. doi:10.1002/9783527690688.ch15. ISBN 9783527330966.
  22. ^ "How The Lotus Effect Was Discovered". video
  23. ^ Videos e.g. German Award for the Environment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_bRmB2RiU0 and Philip Morris Award
  24. ^ Yu, Cunming et al. (March 2020). "Nature–Inspired self–cleaning surfaces: Mechanisms, modelling, and manufacturing". Chemical Engineering Research and Design. 155: 48–65. doi:10.1016/j.cherd.2019.11.038, S2CID 212755274
  25. ^ Barthlott, W.; Mail, M.; Neinhuis, C. (6 August 2016). "Superhydrophobic hierarchically structured surfaces in biology: evolution, structural principles and biomimetic applications". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 374 (2073): 20160191. Bibcode:2016RSPTA.37460191B. doi:10.1098/rsta.2016.0191. PMC 4928508. PMID 27354736.
  26. ^ Biomimetic Research for Architecture and Building Construction. Biologically-Inspired Systems. Vol. 8. 2016. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-46374-2. ISBN 978-3-319-46372-8. S2CID 30823702.
  27. ^ Barthlott, Wilhelm; Mail, Matthias; Bhushan, Bharat; Koch, Kerstin (April 2017). "Plant Surfaces: Structures and Functions for Biomimetic Innovations". Nano-Micro Letters. 9 (2): 23. Bibcode:2017NML.....9...23B. doi:10.1007/s40820-016-0125-1. PMC 6223843. PMID 30464998.
  28. ^ Barthlott, W., Büdel, B., Mail, M., Neumann, K.M., Bartels D. & E. Fischer (24 May 2022). "Superhydrophobic terrestrial Cyanobacteria and land plant transition". Frontiers in Plant Science. doi:10.3389/fpls.2022.880439
  29. ^ Busch, J.; Barthlott, W.; Brede, M.; Terlau, W.; Mail, M. (11 February 2019). "Bionics and green technology in maritime shipping: an assessment of the effect of Salvinia air-layer hull coatings for drag and fuel reduction". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 377 (2138): 20180263
  30. ^ Barthlott, W.; Moosmann, M.; Noll, I.; Akdere, M.; Wagner, J.; Roling, N.; Koepchen-Thomä, L.; Azad, M. A. K.; Klopp, K.; Gries, T.; Mail, M. (20 March 2020). "Adsorption and superficial transport of oil on biological and bionic superhydrophobic surfaces: a novel technique for oil–water separation". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 378 (2167): 20190447. Bibcode:2020RSPTA.37890447B. doi:10.1098/rsta.2019.0447. PMC 7015282. PMID 32008452.
  31. ^ Beek, L., Barthlott, W. et al, (2023): Self-driven sustainable oil separation from water surfaces by biomimetic adsorbing and transporting textiles - Separations 10, 2023. - https://www.mdpi.com/2297-8739/10/12/592/pdf)
  32. ^ Noga et al. (1991): Quantitative evaluation of epicuticular wax alterations as induced by surfactant treatment. Angew. Bot. 65: S. 239–252
  33. ^ Barthlott et al. (2022): Superhydrophobic terrestrial Cyanobacteria and land plant transition – Front. Plant. Sci, doi:10.3389/fpls.2022.880439
  34. ^ "Literatur, Musik, Wissenschaft: Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur". www.adwmainz.de. Mainz. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  35. ^ Mitgliedseintrag von Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Barthlott (mit Bild und CV) bei der Deutschen Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina, retrieved 29 June 2016.
  36. ^ "DBU – Deutscher Umweltpreis 1999 – Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Barthlott | Stichwort: Entdeckung des Lotuseffekts | Deutscher Umweltpreis". www.dbu.de. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  37. ^ "GLOBART | GLOBART Award".
  38. ^ "News and Notes". Taxon. 51 (3): 593–595. 2002. doi:10.1002/tax.513004. JSTOR 1554889.

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