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Biomimicry? what is it?
The terms biomimetics and biomimicry come from Greek where bios means life, and mimesis means imitation.
Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.
We face several problems in our day to day lives. How can we solve them? By turning to Nature for the answer. Nature works on a large scale, and it is really good at assembling things reliably and efficiently. Living organisms have evolved well-adapted structures and materials over geological time through natural selection. Biomimetics has given rise to new technologies inspired by bilogical solutions at macro and nanoscales. Humans have looked at nature for answers to problems throughout our existence. Nature has solved engineering problems such as self-healing abilities, environmental exposure tolerance and resistance, how to repel water for longer life of things (hydrophobicity), self-assembly, and harnessing solar energy.
Some scientists try to study the ways of Nature and mimic the way it deals with these problems. Animals, plants, and microbes are the Natural engineers. After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.
The goal of mimicking Nature is to create products, processes, and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul.
How can Biomimicking be done? Here are a few examples:
Do you know flying machines themselves are bio-mimicked products? Leonardo da Vinci was a keen observer of the anatomy and flight of birds, and made numerous notes and sketches on his observations as well as sketches of "flying machines". Then the Wright Brothers, who succeeded in flying the first heavier-than-air aircraft in 1903, derived inspiration from observations of pigeons in flight.
The way busy worker ants defend their nests is being studied by scientists – to help busy human workers defend their emails. Ants are experts at keeping predators at bay because they are organised and share their workload across the colony. It is a principle that may work against unwanted email junk messages, which make up about 90% of emails and spread viruses. Ant colonies work like the human immune system, in which each cell is designed to fight off one or two different bugs, rather than being weighed down with every tool needed to battle all infections. Ants often make mistakes, and yet over evolutionary time it works out well enough that a colony can keep out all the bad guys. Because the chances are, when any particular ant of another colony comes along there will be an ant that recognises it.
The same logic could be applied online. Emails are currently screened against blocklists, which stop messages from known spammers getting through.
Sea Anemone-Inspired Hydrogel:
Scientists have created a mechanically durable hydrogel inspired by the behavior of sea anemones. Their findings, published in Biomacromolecules, stemmed from the observation that sea anemones' body length and width varies almost ten-fold by shrinking rapidly and expanding slowly under stimulus. The team assumed that a mechanically durable protein in its body could play an important role in contraction and relaxation. Hydrogels are a 3D network of hydrophilic polymers that have excellent swelling properties, enabling them to absorb ten to thousand times of its dry weight in water. The water-capturing capacity of hydrogels gives them a soft and rubber-like flexibility, and allow them to provide a constant nutrient supply to cells. These advantages make hydrogels suitable as an extracorporeal bio-artificial organ, space filling material or delivery vehicle. However, hydrogels face some limitations in handling, sterilization, and mechanical properties. The latter has been considered as the one distinct drawback in hydrogel research. In the present study, a team of researchers led by Professor Hyung Joon Cha, of the Pohang University of Science and Technology's (POSTECH) Department of Chemical Engineering have developed a mechanically durable hydrogel based on the sea anemone protein aneroin. Aneroin is rich in the amino acid tyrosine, which allowed the researchers to form tyrosine-tyrosine bonds. These dityrosine-linkages contribute to durable structures in nature including the jumping pad of dragonflies and fertilization membranes of sea urchin. This in turn contributed to a mechanically improved hydrogel. Through a photo-initiated dityrosine crosslinking method, the aneroin solution was transformed into a 3D hydrogel-based scaffold in a few seconds. Mechanically, the aneroin hydrogel exhibited significantly stronger and stiffer properties than those of collagen, gelatin, and elastin, which have already been widely exploited as hydrogel materials. It also exhibited approximately four-fold stronger mechanical properties compared with silkworm silk. Biologically, the aneroin hydrogel provided an adequate environment for cell growth. Mammalian cells inside the hydrogel proliferated well with an appropriate cell size and healthy morphology. Dead cells were barely detectable in the hydrogel. The mechanically durable and biologically compatible aneroin hydrogel showed clear advantages and could be used in various biomedical applications, especially for cell-containing biomaterials, cell-carrier patches, bio-artificial grafts, and burn dressing materials.
(Source of the above research work: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.biomac.5b01130 )
The skin of sharks has inspired swimming costumes which cut drag and helped top performers to smash records. The costumes have overlapping scales to cut down on drag and more than 130 world records were broken using them.
And the shock-absorbing skull of the woodpecker, which drills trees up to 12,000 times a day with its beak, led a designer to create a super-strong cardboard cycle helmet. Hammering your head into a tree sounds extremely painful, but woodpeckers manage it up to 12,000 times a day. Flexible cartilage between their beaks and skulls acts as a shock absorber, while bone structure helps to protect their brains against the pounding. After suffering a concussion in a cycling accident, industrial designer Anirudha Surabhi came up with the idea of copying the woodpecker’s anatomy for his Kranium helmet. Surprisingly, the helmet is made of cardboard but it can withstand three times the force of traditional polystyrene products.
A beetle’s ability to trap moisture from the air spurred scientists to try and grow trees in a desert. The tiny Namib desert beetle has inspired engineers to try to grow forests in the Sahara. It leans into the wind and its wax-like shell traps moisture that condenses and can be drunk.
And a fish is helping improve natural light in offices.
For more than 80 years, Percy Shaw’s invention of cats’ eyes have been keeping drivers around the world safe.
An inventor from Halifax was inspired by the extreme reflective nature of cats’ eyes and the principle is being used again. The deep-ocean dwelling spookfish also has specialised reflectors due to the lack of light. Each eye is split in two, so it can look up and down. Devices using the same reflective principles are now being designed to channel natural light into office buildings. These “sun tunnels”, left, sit on roofs and cut down on energy usage.
Pine cones have inspired a revolutionary clothes material and burdock plants’ hooks led to the development of Velcro. The pine cone has inspired a particularly novel fashion breakthrough. Because it closes up in wet weather, scientists wondered whether the principles behind it could be applied to clothing. Using the same idea a University of Bath and London College of Fashion project developed clothing that would open up in response to moisture. When the wearer starts sweating the fabric allows cool air through its porous surface, but in dry conditions it closes up to keep you warm.
Velcro: Swiss engineer George de Mestral began developing his invention in 1941, after returning from a hunting trip in the Alps with his dog. He found burrs from burdock plants had attached themselves to the animal, and under a microscope discovered they had tiny hooks on their ends.
Velcro tape mimics biological examples of multiple hooked structures such as burs.
By using the concept of birds’ hollow bones engineers can improve jet plane design. Birds have inspired technological advances, through their strong, hollow bones. The construction industry is also using their design to develop hollow building materials that cut down on waste, without losing any of the strength needed to keep buildings upright.
Aeroplane manufacturer Airbus has adapted structures found in seabirds, making planes more efficient as their wings can change shape depending on wind conditions.
It is currently examining how owls fly so quietly to catch their prey, in the hope noise emissions can be cut.
Aircraft maker Airbus says tiny capillaries in butterflies could hold the key to adjusting materials mid-flight. But chemicals on their wings have also led to an innovation much closer to home, after scientists discovered how shimmering colours were created through layers of overlapping crystalline structures that bent the light reflecting off them.
The reflective quality of butterfly wings are lengthening the life of batteries in electronic books.
These are just a few examples. There are hundreds of things still waiting in Nature to get mimicked for our advantage! In the future we will get to see more and more of these products.
Meanwhile if you find something interesting in Nature and want to follow it, go ahead and invent something based on it. All the best to you!
With their lithe limbs, stretchy skin, and colorful camouflage, octopuses have many admirers among scientists and engineers. Soft robotics makers, for example, aim to mimic the creatures’ ability to slip into small spaces. Camouflage experts would like to create tunable color surfaces similar to those octopuses use to evade predators.
Inspired by the octopus’s shape- and color-shifting abilities, researchers have now created a superstretchy skin that lights up in different colors. The electroluminescent material could find use in soft robotics and as wearable displays, such as smart sleeves that double as screens.
Penguin Feathers Inspire Ice-Proof Material By mimicking the hierarchical microstructure of penguin feathers, researchers have developed an ice-proof insulating material.
Ten Materials Inspired By Mother Nature The natural world is filled with strange, fascinating structures that are stronger, more flexible and more resilient than anything humans can make.
Coconuts are renowned for their hard shells, which are vital to ensure their seeds successfully germinate. But the specialised structure of coconut walls could help to design buildings that can withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Coconut palms can grow 30 m high, meaning that when the ripe fruits fall to the ground their walls have to withstand the impact to stop them from splitting open. To protect the internal seed, the coconut has a complex structure of three layers: the outer brown, leathery exocarp, a fibrous mesocarp and a tough inner endocarp surrounding the pulp which contains the developing seedling. As part of a larger project on “Biological Design and Integrative Structures”, researchers at the Plant Biomechanics Group of the University of Freiburg have been working with civil engineers and material scientists to investigate how this specialised structure could be applied in architecture.
The researchers used compression machines and an impact pendulum to investigate how coconuts disperse energy. “By analysing the fracture behaviour of the samples and combining this with knowledge about the shell’s anatomy gained from microscopy and computed tomography, we aimed to identify mechanically relevant structures for energy absorption” says plant biomechanist Stefanie Schmier.
Their investigations found that within the endocarp layer – which consists mainly of highly lignified stone cells- the vessels that make up the vascular system have a distinct, ladder-like design, which is thought to help withstand bending forces. Each cell is surrounded by several lignified rings, joined together by parallel bridges. “The endocarp seems to dissipate energy via crack deflection” says Stefanie. “This means that any newly developed cracks created by the impact don’t run directly through the hard shell”. It is thought that the angle of the vascular bundles helps to “divert” the trajectory of the cracks. The longer a crack has to travel within the endocarp, the more likely it is that it will stop before it reaches the other side.
The distinct angle of the vascular bundles in the endocarp could be applied to the arrangement of textile fibres within functionally graded concrete, to enable crack deflection. “This combination of lightweight structuring with high energy dissipation capacity is of increasing interest to protect buildings against earthquakes, rock fall and other natural or manmade hazards” says Stefanie.
Biomimicry: How the wings of owls and hummingbirds inspire drones, wind turbines and other technology