Well, now that I am done with travel writing (for the time being), I might as well get right into the swing of things.
Biomimetics is the application of natural designs, structures, and processes that are found in organisms through the medium of technology and engineering. The first real biomimicry project was conceived by George de Mestral when he discovered that burs attach themselves to cloth and other substances by hooking onto loops in the fabric. He used this amazingly simple technology to create Velcro.
Today, biomimetics is a field that has grown infinitely complex, nearly as complex as the mechanisms that can be found on living organisms. Says Dr. Andrew Parker, “Every species, even those that have gone extinct, is a success story, optimized by millions of years of natural selection. Why not learn from what evolution has wrought?”
So far scientists have tapped into natural selections handiwork to produce technologies that can be very practical and helpful. For example, scientists have been looking at whale flippers (which have points on the sides, rather than the expected smooth surface) and seeing how they can apply their design to make windmills quieter and more efficient. Scientists have also engineered a swimsuit that is made up of tiny teeth-like plates, just like the dentricles on sharks which help the organism cut through the water with less friction than a smooth surface. Some engineers have studied the beaks of toucans to see how they can be so amazingly light so as not to disrupt flight, but hard enough to crack nuts. Some scientists have even modeled entire organisms. A gecko’s feet have around 6.5 million spatula-like hairs on each toe which allow the animal to stick onto and climb vertical surfaces due to Van der Wals attractions (the attractions between minute electrical charges caused by the constantly shifting electrons). Stanford University scientists have created a robot called Stickybot with footpads covered in nanotubules, much like a gecko’s foot. As of now it moves much slower than its natural counterpart, but researchers hope that it can be eventually used in search and rescue missions.
Biomimetics is heralded by many as the future of engineering. Even though we may never be able to truly grasp and understand all the mechanisms of nature (an abalone’s shell is made up of around 10 proteins working in complete harmony like a puzzle; scientists are still baffled at the complexity of it), but we are constantly learning about our surrounding environments.
For more information, check out this article: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/04/biomimetics/tom-mueller-text