Biomimicry

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Those who are inspired by a model other than Nature, a mistress above all masters, are laboring in vain...

(Leonardo DaVinci)

Biomimicry is based on the supposition that learning from nature is the perfect tool for eco-design. Biomimicry imitates nature’s designs, or borrows from them to solve human problems. Here's a case in point -- beetles in Namib desert in Namibia have bumps on their wing cases which enable them to gather water droplets from fogs in a region where only about 10 millimetres of rain fall a year. Taking a cue from the beetles, a team of the University of Oxford and British defence research group is producing a beetle-like film to capture water vapour from cooling towers. This invention can help save water and energy in these stressed times of global warming and climate change.

The significance of Biomimicry lies not just in the fact that it helps us make really efficient designs (although this is also very important)-- but also in the fact that it helps us see Nature as a Mentor. It enables us to understand better, that we need to treat Nature as a partner and teacher -- not as merely a resource-extraction site.

Contents

[edit] Imitates Nature’s Designs

Natural systems become highly optimized and efficient by the evolutionary pressures, just the way the lotus flower plant naturally develop dirt- and water-repellent paint (coating)on its surface. Studying how plant leaves photosynthesize may lead to insights into how to build smaller, more efficient solar cells.

Nature has solved many of the problems that are still unfathomable to humans. Biomimicry imitates nature’s designs, or borrows them to solve human problems. Since it only borrows and does not extract, it leaves the original behind for others to draw inspiration from.

The science of biomimicry aims to create new ways of living that are well adapted to earth over long periods of time.

If we make use of our senses along with our vision we get to understand how a jay’s feather, or a crab’s claw really functions. With that as the starting poing we can explore how we can apply them in our lives.

[edit] Gearing Up to Make Hi-Tech Goods

Leading companies are gearing up to make hi-tech goods using biomimicry, which imitates nature’s designs, or borrows them to solve human problems.

Scientists are learning from a whale’s heart a thing or two about human heart maintenance. A cheap operation for humans that bridged damaged heart muscles by mimicking the tiny "wiring" could cut demand for battery-powered pacemakers in humans, based on research at the Whale Heart Satellite Tracking Program in Colombia.

Studies by German scientists have found that the sandfish lizard of North Africa and the Arabian peninsula could also give clues to cheaper ways to cut friction in mechanical and electrical devices. This would help replace using costly silicon carbide or crystalline diamond.

The drought-resistant African "resurrection plant" indicates ways to store vaccines without refrigeration.

[edit] Solar Cells

Small and efficient solar cells are being modeled after photosynthetic reaction centers in leaves. Leaves produce energy with water, sunlight, and no toxic materials. These new solar cells could be used for splitting water (hydrogen and oxygen as products) or as computer mechanisms that channel light instead of electrons.

[edit] Green Solar Cells

The Nanomaterials Research Centre at New Zealand’s Massey University has made a range of synthetic dyes that are closely related to those found in nature, such as chlorophyll. Unlike the current silicon-based solar cells, these synthetic green solar cells are more environmentally friendly and cost efficient. The ultimate goal of this nanotechnology is to develop a solar cell to convert as much sunlight to electricity as possible.

[edit] Computer Chips (Marine Sponges)

Computer or silicon chip manufacturing is currently based on high energy and toxicity. Marine sponges in their natural marine environment make silica dioxide structures with the aid of a protein called silicatein.

Scientists at University of California Santa Barbara have synthesized an imitation of this protein. They have shown that this protein mimic can direct the making of silica structures, just as the sponge protein silicatein does. The potential of this technology is low energy and non-toxic manufacturing.

[edit] New Class of Touch Material (Red Abalone)

Various laboratories (University of Washington, Sandia National Laboratories, and Oklahoma State University) are reproducing the nacre structure of the abalone shell. The nacre, or mother-of-pearl, is composed of alternating layers of hard and elastic layers that give it the unusual combination of toughness, strength and stiffness. Proposed uses for this imitation nacre include: windshield coatings, solar car parts, airplane parts, and artificial bone.

[edit] How Nature Would Have Built My House?

Biomimicry can be used as an exciting framework for making homes more environmentally sustaining. One can create conditions conducive to life.

It can show us if our house uses benignly manufactured materials. Does it optimize rather than maximize, and does it perform its functions with minimal materials? Through nature's methods we can understand whether our houses embrace cycles of reuse and renewal, and does it adapt to seasons.

Though it doesn't provide shortcuts or easy answers to going green, it can inspire us to look deeper into what we really need and show us ways of achieving them sustainably.

Termite-Inspired Air Conditioning

Termites have inspired an architect in Harare, Zimbabwe, to construct a mid-sized build which has no air-conditioning yet remains cool thanks to a termite-inspired ventillation system.

[edit] References

  • Biomimicry Guild
  • What is Biomimicry?
  • Whales, lizards inspire high-tech mimicry
  • Biomimicry and Green Building


[edit] See Also

Discussion

Call it life imitating art or art imitating life -- Biomimicry is a superb way of doing things. I just wanted to add, however, that its not just been used to create hi tech products -- many products we use all the time and take pretty much for granted, have been modelled on organisms. For example, Velcro..... Read more inside