January 12, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

To Advance Technology, Make Like Nature

Scientists and engineers continue to find the most elegant solutions to practical problems by looking at plants and animals.  Here are a few of the recent examples.

  1. Wet computing:  Cells and brains do a superior job of complex processing, so why are our current computers singing how dry I am?  Not for much longer.  Science Daily reported that “A new kind of information processing technology inspired by chemical processes in living systems is being developed by researchers at the University of Southampton.”  What they have so far is “very crude” but they are working toward developing a “liquid brain” just like our brains.  Dr. Klaus-Peter Zauner at the University’s School of Electronics and Computer Science said, “People realise now that the best information processes we have are in our heads and as we are increasingly finding that silicon has its limitations in terms of information processing, we need to explore other approaches, which is exactly what we are doing here.”  Makes you wonder why IBM didn’t follow that inspiration early on.  Think of the other benefits: “Our system will copy some key features of neuronal pathways in the brain and will be capable of excitation, self-repair and self-assembly,” said fellow researcher Dr. Maurits de Planque.
        The BBC News also reported on this story.  Dr. Zauner told them, “Every neuron is like a molecular computer; ours is a very crude abstraction of what neurons do.”  The planned chemical computers will also have another characteristically human trait: lipids, or fat.
  2. Slime mold highways:  What would a slimy mold have to teach humans?  New Scientist reported two specialists in “unconventional computing” believe they can provide alternative methods for road planning.  After watching a slime mold in a petri dish find the best path to nutrients on a map of England, Jeff Jones of the University of the West of England in Bristol said, “This shows how a single-celled creature without any nervous system – and thus intelligence in the classical sense – can provide an efficient solution to a routing problem.”
  3. Make like a leaf:  Leaves are like incredibly-efficient solar panels, so why not imitate them?  New Scientist reported that a team in China is building artificial leaves that can imitate photosynthesis.  “By mimicking the machinery plants use to do this, it is possible to create a miniature hydrogen factory,” one of the researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University said.  “Using sunlight to split water molecules and form hydrogen fuel is one of the most promising tactics for kicking our carbon habit.”
        Their new approach is closer to the plants’ technique.  They are trying to “mimic photosynthesis by copying the elaborate architectures of green leaves” themselves.  To do this, they are actually building on dried leaves and using them as templates.  “The leaf retained features such as the lens-like cells at its surface, which catch light coming from any angle, and veins that help guide light deeper into the leaf.”  This strategy is making the artificial structures more efficient: twice as good at absorption and three times better at hydrogen production,” the team claimed.
        They realize this is just a “good beginning,” the article ended.  “Complex structures found in leaves should be utilised further for enhancement in light harvesting.”

The article about artificial leaves was the only one making mention of evolution.  “Plant leaves have evolved over millions of years to catch the energy in the sun’s rays very efficiently,” the article said.  “They use the energy to produce food, and the central step in the process involves splitting water molecules and creating hydrogen ions.”  Apparently it is Mason Inman, author of the report, who gets the credit for Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week.

This is where the action is in science and technology: finding exquisite designs in nature and trying to imitate them.  You have to feel sad for the Darwinists.  Every time they insert the E-word into the story, they only show themselves superfluous.

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