From Wonders of Nature to Wonders of Technology
Living things have solved physics problems like design engineers. Inventors are just now catching on to their tricks in ways that could improve our technology, weaning us off our crude, polluting past and ushering in advanced technology that is not only greener but more effective. The latest stars are two insects and a bacterium.
1. Butterfly black magic. Science Daily reported, “Butterfly Wings’ ‘Art of Blackness’ Could Boost Production of Green Fuels.” Notice they said art of blackness, not black art. It’s purely physical: the arrangement of cells on some butterfly wings are designed to absorb light to look as black as black can be. This observation portends fuel efficiency, the article says:
Butterfly wings may rank among the most delicate structures in nature, but they have given researchers powerful inspiration for new technology that doubles production of hydrogen gas — a green fuel of the future — from water and sunlight.
At a meeting of the American Chemical Society, Tongxiang Fang told the audience that the problem in fuel cells is light-gathering efficiency.
“We realized that the solution to this problem may have been in existence for millions of years, fluttering right in front of our eyes,” Fan said. “And that was correct. Black butterfly wings turned out to be a natural solar collector worth studying and mimicking,” Fan said.
Fang and friends have not been watching the butterflies for millions of years, but realized that the birdwing butterfly and Red Helen use their super-dark wings to keep warm in cold weather. This implies that the light that falls on them is not wasted. The “aha” moment came when the Chinese team realized that the black color comes not from melanin (a pigment) but the structural arrangement of the scales. Using the wing as a template, they created a kind of cookie-cutter shape to mass-produce the structure, and effectively doubled the yield of water-splitting capability of catalysts used in solar cells.
“These results demonstrate a new strategy for mimicking Mother Nature’s elaborate creations in making materials for renewable energy. The concept of learning from nature could be extended broadly, and thus give a broad scope of building technologically unrealized hierarchical architecture and design blueprints to exploit solar energy for sustainable energy resources,” he concluded.
2. Does this float your boat? Imagine a one-pound boat that could carry 1,000 pounds. According to an article on PhysOrg, wonders like this are coming into the realm of possibility by studying how water striders do it. Water striders literally walk on water, their specialized footpads creating mere dimples in the skin-like surface of water. By combining the bugs’ technique with one of the world’s lightest solid substances, aerogel (also called “solid smoke” because of its smoke-like appearance), researchers at the University of Helsinki are looking to produce products useful for “cleaning up oil spills to helping create such products as sensors for detecting environmental pollution, miniaturized military robots, and even children’s toys and super-buoyant beach floats.”
Their findings were also presented at the American Chemical Society meeting. Biomimetics was the hot topic there: “The symposium focused on an emerging field called biomimetics, in which scientists literally take inspiration from Mother Nature, probing and adapting biological systems in plants and animals for use in medicine, industry and other fields.” The ACS is the world’s largest scientific society.
Even the aerogel itself derives from cellulose in plants. If you wear cotton or use paper, you’re familiar with cellulose, but nano-cellulose is opening up a whole new age, according to one of the symposium organizers that invited a dozen presentations on it:
“We are in the middle of a Golden Age, in which a clearer understanding of the forms and functions of cellulose architectures in biological systems is promoting the evolution of advanced materials,” said Harry Brumer, Ph.D., of Michael Smith Laboratories, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. … “This session on cellulose-based biomimetic and biomedical materials is really very timely due to the sustained and growing interest in the use of cellulose, particularly nanoscale cellulose, in biomaterials.”
Ikkala pointed out that cellulose is the most abundant polymer on Earth, a renewable and sustainable raw material that could be used in many new ways. In addition, nanocellulose promises advanced structural materials similar to metals, such as high-tech spun fibers and films.
Good-bye, fossil fuels, petroleum and metals. All around us has been an abundant biological polymer promising the potential for things never dreamt of (except by water striders and plants) that can improve our lives without affecting food availability or price.
3. Biological batteries: If your surgeon left an Energizer battery inside you after sewing you back up, you would NOT last long like a toy bunny; you would be at a serious health risk. Some day, though, surgeons may intentionally sew batteries inside your body – batteries made with biological enzymes found in bacteria. “Nature’s billion-year-old battery key to storing energy” reads a headline on PhysOrg, referring to the time in Darwin years that evolutionists believe this enzyme, involved in photosynthesis, has existed. “Light induces a charge separation in the enzyme, causing one end to become negatively charged and the other positively charged, much like in a battery.”
If a team from Concordia University succeeds in controlling this enzyme, inventors may be able to create biological batteries that could internally monitor your vital signs with no ill effects from toxic chemicals, because the ingredients would be all natural. One of the driving forces for the research is that such materials are “carbon neutral and use resources that are in abundance: sun, carbon dioxide and water,” the article explained. “Researchers are using nature’s battery to inspire more sustainable, man-made energy converting systems.”
While on the subject of physics, let’s notice a tribute to James Clerk Maxwell, one of the world’s greatest creation scientists. His famous “Maxwell’s Equations” have yielded a new solution to the question of whether self-bending light is possible — and it is. Does this mean we will some day be able to see around corners? Read PhysOrg for the scoop on what this profound discovery might have in store for everything that acts with wave-like behavior.
Did you notice the claim that the American Chemical Society is the world’s largest scientific society? and that they are jazzed about biomimetics–an intelligent-design based mode of scientific inquiry? What does that tell you about the future of Darwinism, that useless Victorian myth that produced things no more valuable to society than forced sterilization, genocide and totalitarian regimes? Yes, a Golden Age is coming, if we can extricate ourselves from the clutches of the Victorian myth, and return science to what it used to be: thinking God’s thoughts after him. The words of physicist James Joule are jewels in that regard, worth reading in this new age of biomimetics.
Even the aerogel itself derives from cellulose in plants.