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 developed self-cleaning (lotus effect) technical surfaces and technical surfaces, which permanently retain air under water (Salvinia effect). This led to a paradigm shift in particular areas of 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 Environment Award) and memberships in Academies (e. g. the German National Academy of Science Leopodina). A large red-flowering tropical shrub, Barthlottia madagascariensis and other plants are named after him.


Wilhelm Barthlott descends from a French Huguenots family, which arrived with Jacques Barthelot in 1698 on the grounds of the Maulbronn monastery in Germany, where his mother's family houses had existed already before 1520. He studied biology, physics, chemistry, and geography at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He earned his doctorate in 1973 with a dissertation on systematics and biogeography of cacti investigated by means of scanning electron microscopy. He was appointed a professorship at the Free University of Berlin (Freie Universität 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 Gardens. 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 became emeritus in 2011, and continued as the head of the long-run research project "Biodiversität im Wandel" ("Biodiversity in Change") until 2015, of the Academy of Sciences and Literature of Mainz. He co-founded with Walter Erdelen (UNESCO) the Biodiversity Network in Bonn BION in 2011, which was implemented by Wilhelm Barthlott and his successor Maximilian Weigend in 2013. He is investigating biological and technical superhydrophobic interfaces within the scope of his research projects in biomimetics.

Barthlott published one of the internationally most cited papers in plant science.[1] 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".[2]

Fields of work[edit]


Barthlott has done extensive research focusing on Andean South America and Africa, in particular, on the taxonomy and morphology of cacti, orchids and bromeliads, 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. This plants also exhibit one of the highest evolutionary rates and has the smallest known genome among all flowering plants. The naming of Genlisea barthlottii pays tribute to his investigation in this regard. The shrub Barthlottia madagascariensis or the miniature Titan Arum Amorphophallus bartlottii and further species were named after him. Among his discoveries are the giant bromeliad Mezobromelia lyman-smithii or epiphytic cacti such as Rhipsalis juengeri, Pfeiffera miyagawae and Schlumbergera orssichiana. A complete list of plants can be found on the IPNI.

His biogeographic-ecological work was mostly conducted in South America, West Africa and Madagascar concentrating on arid regions,[3] epiphytes in tropical forest canopy,[4] as well as tropical inselbergs.[5] Additional works concentrated on the global mapping of biodiversity and its macroecological dependencies on the climate and other abiotic factors (Geodiversity), including migration and globalization.[6] 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[7] project, which was led by him, the biodiversity patterns in Africa as a model continent were analyzed and potential impacts of climate change are investigated.

Bionics, biomimetics, and biological interfaces[edit]

Wilhelm Barthlott was the first botanist using high resolution in 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[8]), which were technically realized with the trademark Lotus Effect from 1998 on,[9] resulting products are distributed worldwide. The patents and the trademark Lotus Effect 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.[10]

Currently, the research on biological interfaces and bionics is Barthlott's central area of interest.[11][12][13] 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. Another application is the oil-water-separation by adsorption and transportation of oil on air retaining surfaces.[14]

Honors and awards[edit]

  • 1990 Member of the Academy of Science and Literature in Mainz[15]
  • 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[16]
  • 1999 Philip Morris Award
  • 1999 German Environmental Prize (Deutscher Umweltpreis)[17]
  • 2001 Treviranus Medal of the Association of German Biologists (Verband Deutscher Biologen)
  • 2001 GlobArt Award (Austria)
  • 2002 Cactus d'Or (Monaco)
  • 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 – 2014 Director of the Board of the International Society of Bionic Engineering (ISBE), Beijing (China)


Barthlott's publications comprise more than 470 titles, including books and articles. A complete directory can be found at Wilhelm Barthlott Google Scholar Citations

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ White, P. J, (2018): Citation classics in Plant Science since 1992. – Botany One / Annals of Botany 23rd Jan. 2018: https://www.botany.one/2018/01/citation-classics-plant-sciences-since-1992/
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Barthlott, W. et al. (2015): Biogeography and Biodiversity of Cacti. – Schumannia 7, pp. 1–205, ISSN 1437-2517
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Inselbergs. Ecological Studies. Vol. 146. 2000. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-59773-2. ISBN 978-3-642-64120-6.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "BIOTA AFRICA". www.biota-africa.org. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  8. ^ Baeyer, H, C, von, (2000); The Lotus Effect. – The Sciences: J. New York Academy of Sciences 12–15, January 2000
  9. ^ Forbes, P. (2006) The Gecko's Foot. – Fourth Estate, HarperCollins, New York, 272 pp.
  10. ^ Geyer, Florian; D'Acunzi, Maria; Sharifi-Aghili, Azadeh; Saal, Alexander; Gao, Nan; Kaltbeitzel, Anke; Sloot, Tim-Frederik; Berger, Rüdiger; Butt, Hans-Jürgen; Vollmer, Doris (2020). "When and how self-cleaning of superhydrophobic surfaces works". Science Advances. 6 (3): eaaw9727. Bibcode:2020SciA....6.9727G. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aaw9727. PMC 6968945. PMID 32010764.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "Literatur, Musik, Wissenschaft : Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur | Mainz". www.adwmainz.de. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  16. ^ Mitgliedseintrag von Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Barthlott (mit Bild und CV) bei der Deutschen Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina, abgerufen am 29. Juni 2016.
  17. ^ "DBU – Deutscher Umweltpreis 1999 – Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Barthlott | Stichwort: Entdeckung des Lotuseffekts | Deutscher Umweltpreis". www.dbu.de. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  18. ^ Moosmann, Markus; Schimmel, Thomas; Barthlott, Wilhelm; Mail, Matthias (2017-08-11). "Air–water interface of submerged superhydrophobic surfaces imaged by atomic force microscopy". Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology. 8 (1): 1671–1679. doi:10.3762/bjnano.8.167. ISSN 2190-4286.

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