Biomimetics or applying designs from nature to solve problems in engineering, materials science, medicine, and in several other areas of practical human use
The above title comes from the April, 2008, issue of the National Geographic, in which a variety elements from nature are being utilized by humans to improve their life styles. The article points out that many of natures "clever devices" are composed of simple materials; such as, "keratin, calcium carbonate, and silica, which nature manipulates into structures of fantastic complexity, strength, and toughness."
When scientists understand the microscale and nanoscale structures responsible for a living material's special properties, people can re-create it synthetically.
Here are a few of the highlights presented in article about how engineers are striving to take advantage of biomimetics.
- The thorny devil lizard inhabiting the arid Australian desert has shown that it can "wick" water to its mouth through channels between its scales.
- Biomimetic scientists are making efforts to mimic the mechanism used by the devil lizard so people can also utilize water-capture technologies for various dry areas of the world.
- Investigations have been made into iridescence in butterflies and beetles and antireflective coating in moth eyes; research that has resulted in brighter screens for cellular phones.
- An increasingly biomimetics movement is taking place on a global scale
Observing cockleburs, or weeds with spiny burs, taken from his pants and his dog's coat after a hike in 1948, Swiss engineer George de Mestral found their spines were tipped with tiny hooks leading to his invention of Velcro.
With a hook-and-loop construction that grips instantly, but lets go with a tug, Velcro is now as popular or existing everywhere just as the zipper is.
The boxfish with its squared-off contours has a low drag design which helps the fish to swim up to six body lengths per second that is stabilized by the keel-like edges of its carapace (a thick hard case that covers part of the body; especially, the back, of an animal such as a crab or turtle).
The streamlined form of the boxfish has inspired Mercedes-Benz to make a bionic-concept car demonstrating flowing vapors during wind-tunnel tests showing the car's aerodynamics which will help it to boost its gas mileage to as much as 70 miles per gallon.
In 1982, botanist Wilhelm Barthlott of the University of Bonn in Germany discovered in the lotus leaf a naturally self-cleaning, water-repellent surface.
The secret of the lotus leaf lies in the waxy microstructures and nanostructures that, by their contact angle with water, cause it to bead and to roll away like mercury, gathering dirt as it goes.
Barthlott called his discovery the "Lotus Effect" and its commercial application is in products like the bioimimetic paint "Lotusan".
Infused with microbumps, the paint is said to repel water and resist stains for decades.
Translating whale power into wind power, biomechanist Frank Fish helped design turbine blades with tubercles (nodules) as shown by the flipper of a humpback whale.
The whale flipper's scalloped edge helps to generate force in tightly banked turns.
The whale-inspired blades are being tested at the Wind Energy Institute of Canada to see if they can make more power at slower speeds than conventional blades, and with less noise.
Sharkskin is shown by an electron micrograph to have tooth-like scales called dermal denticles which make the shark much faster by reducing friction.
The shark scales also hinder barnacles and algae from glomming on (seize upon or latch onto) which has inspired synthetic coating that may soon be applied to Navy ship hulls to reduce biofouling.
Researchers are using electron-force and atomic-force microscopes, microtomography, and high-speed computers to look ever deeper into nature's microscale and nanoscale secrets, and a growing variety of advanced materials to mimic them more accurately than in the past.
Before biomimetics develops into a commercial industry, it has already been developing into a powerful new tool for understanding the many complications of nature.
- Consideration of the bumps on the leading edges of humpback whale flukes to learn hoe to make airplane wings for more agile flight.
- Studying how termites regulate temperature, humidity, and airflow in their mounds in order to build more comfortable buildings for people.
- Medical researchers are finding ways to reduce the pain of an injection by using hypodermic needles edged with tiny serrations, like those on a mosquito's proboscis, minimizing nerve stimulation.
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