October 22, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Planning Your Next Revolutionary Invention

To innovate something people will want, follow the leader: the Creator of living creatures.

Cicada wings inspire antireflective surfaces (Science Daily): Chinese inventors looked at cicada wings to design new antireflective materials with titanium oxide. Why cicadas, you ask? “The surfaces of the insect’s wings are composed of highly ordered, tiny vertical ‘nano-nipple’ arrays,” the article explains. In both the wing and the designed material, “The multiple reflective and scattering effects of the antireflective structures prevented the incident light from returning to the outside atmosphere.”

New approach for screening toxic chemicals mimics mammal senses (PhysOrg): Your tongue and your nose—and those of other mammals—are inspiring inventors at the University of Leicester. It would be nice if machines could find poisons by smell and chemical sensing. “The study was originally inspired by the operating principle of the electronic noses and tongues systems which mimic mammalian smell and taste recognition, combining semi-specific sensors and chemometric techniques for monitoring biochemical processes.”

Beaver-inspired wetsuits in the works (Science Daily): Researchers at MIT looked into the fur structure of the beaver to design better insulation for divers. Since it doesn’t require a thick fat layer of material or long fur, the diver won’t have to look like Cookie Monster.

Amazing FactsBeavers and sea otters lack the thick layer of blubber that insulates walruses and whales. And yet these small, semiaquatic mammals can keep warm and even dry while diving, by trapping warm pockets of air in dense layers of fur. Inspired by these fuzzy swimmers, engineers have now fabricated fur-like, rubbery pelts and used them to identify a mechanism by which air is trapped between individual hairs when the pelts are plunged into liquid.

A novel bio-mimicking, planar nano-edge microelectrode enables enhanced long-term neural recording (Scientific Reports): A recent article on CEH discussed how memory is probably encoded in the brain’s synapses (10/18/16). Now, “Inspired by the structural attributes of a synaptic cleft, our team reports here on the next generation of planar microelectrode arrays with nano-edges offering high fidelity recordings over long time periods.”

Researchers probing the beneficial secrets in dolphins’ proteins (PhysOrg): “Why reinvent the wheel when nature has the answer?” ask Sver Aune and Dawn Brazell in this article. The dolphins jumping in the photo have a secret: “protective proteins that may contain clues to treatments for aging-associated diseases in humans.” It’s par for the course in “the field of biomimicry, where researchers look to nature for creative solutions to human problems.

Uplink Scheduling of Navigation Constellation Based on Immune Genetic Algorithm (PLoS One): Although this paper does not reference any particular organism, it draws on the “immune genetic algorithm” which is “based on the theory of immunity in biology” according to a paper published by the IEEE.

Quick! Make like a tuna (Science Daily): The Department of Homeland Security has a hard time inspecting boat hulls for contraband. So they put on a tuna costume for trick or treat: “Disguised as a tuna, bioswimmer is changing the game for underwater inspections.”

Daisy-chain-like molecular structures mimic artificial muscles (PhysOrg): Our muscles contain countless molecular machines, like actin and myosin that convert chemical energy into kinetic energy. The spectacular success of biological muscle can be appreciated by watching the floor exercise of an Olympic gymnast. Engineers can’t hope to imitate real muscle that well, but they continue their cheap imitations. “Scientists from Taiwan have made interlocking daisy-chain-like molecular structures that can switch from an expanded and contracted position based on the removal and addition of zinc, mimicking muscle behavior.”

Polymorphic beams and Nature inspired circuits for optical current (Scientific Reports): Engineers have a problem. They want to “exploit the transverse forces governed by the optical current,” but those forces have to be channeled into forms that fit the application. Nature has a solution.

Fortunately, Nature has evolved many inspiring solutions to design problems. Indeed, the curved circuits can be described by an elegant expression known as Superformula, which was found by J. Gielis in the study of biological and other natural forms: shapes of plants, micro-organisms (e.g.: cells, bacteria and diatoms), small animals (e.g.: starfish), crystals, etc.

Soft robots that mimic human muscles (Science Daily): Metal robots make good Star Wars droids, but soft robots are more cuddly. “Robots are usually expected to be rigid, fast and efficient. But researchers at EPFL’s Reconfigurable Robotics Lab (RRL) have turned that notion on its head with their soft robots.” Made of silicon and rubber, the team’s soft robotics feel more natural to patients needing assistance with motion. Prosthetics inspired by the flexibility of human muscle might help paraplegics experience safe, free movement again. Other possible applications of soft robotics are endless.

‘Shadow method’ reveals locomotion secrets of water striders (Science Daily): Here we are in 2016, and scientists still haven’t completely figured out how water striders walk on water. They know it involves superhydrophobic materials, exploitation of surface tension, and methods of locomotion that won’t sink the critter. What scientists in China are learning will have useful applications for humans: “don’t be surprised to see advanced bionic robots based on the locomotion principles of small insects in the near future — as soon as techniques to fabricate these structures and their control and powering systems can be developed.”

We love biomimetics except when we have to smell the second-hand smoke coming from the scientists smoking Darwin Cigars. “Nature has evolved many inspiring solutions to design problems,” they say. Kick the habit; breathe the clean air of intelligent design, where things are happening to make scuba divers, paraplegics, computer users and everybody else happy.

Speaking of the design revolution, the Discovery Institute just released a video on Michael Behe called Revolutionary (see trailer on YouTube and more on the official website. It was Behe’s thought-provoking discussion of irreducibly complex molecular machines that, in large part, stimulated the intelligent design movement 20 years ago. Order your copy and join the design revolution.

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