May 26, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

New Biomimetics Stories

Here are some new ways scientists are imitating plants and animals to understand their designs and make new products.

Polymer Breakthrough Inspired by Trees and Ancient Celtic Knots (Science Daily).  “A new slow-motion method of controlling the synthesis of polymers, which takes inspiration from both trees and Celtic Knots, opens up new possibilities in areas including medical devices, drug delivery, elastics and adhesives.”

Ant studies to aid design of search and rescue robots (BBC News).  Stick your finger in sand and the hole fills back in.  Somehow, fire ants can make narrow tunnels in sand—any kind of sand or soil, even sand composed of artificial glass beads.  A video clip in the article shows fire ants constructing narrow tunnels not much wider than their own bodies, allowing them to catch themselves to prevent falling in vertical orientations.  Nick Gavish at Georgia Tech wants to learn how they do it.  He envisions search-and-rescue operations taking advantage of loose rubble to build passageways for victims.  So he is going to the ant to distil “the principles by which ants and other animals manipulate complex environments.

Moth-Inspired Nanostructures Take the Color out of Thin Films (Science Daily).  We’ve learned in previous biomimetics entries about enhancing colors with “photonic crystals,” structural designs found on butterfly wings.  The reverse effect—diminishing reflections—can also be achieved structurally, by cancelling out wavelengths through destructive interference.  That’s how a moth’s eye works – and scientists at North Carolina State are “mimicking that concept” to improve the performance of solar cells.

Snake’s ultra-black spots may aid high-tech quest (PhysOrg) – and that quest is “to create the ultimate light-absorbing material.”  How does the snake illustrate the ultimate?  “The West African Gaboon viper, one of the largest in Africa and a master of camouflage, has dark spots in the geometrical pattern of its skin that are deep, velvety black and reflect very little light.” the article says. That’s because “Interwoven with white- and brown-coloured scales that are very reflective, this creates a high contrast that renders the snake difficult to spot on the richly-patterned rainforest floor.”  Following the “snake’s nanotechnology” could prove beneficial to man: “The micro-ornamentation on the snake’s velvet black scales is a further example that the same physical law applies to both nature and technology and leads consequently to similar constructions.”

DNA-Guided Assembly Yields Novel Ribbon-Like Nanostructures (Science Daily).  DNA continues to be an ideal molecule to work with.  It acts in unique ways due to its small size.  “Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered that DNA ‘linker’ strands coax nano-sized rods to line up in way [sic] unlike any other spontaneous arrangement of rod-shaped objects.”  What cannot be done at the macro scale can work for nano-fabrication.

Advanced Biological Computer Developed (Science Daily).  We’ve reported on DNA computing before, but now, “Using only biomolecules (such as DNA and enzymes), scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed and constructed an advanced biological transducer, a computing machine capable of manipulating genetic codes, and using the output as new input for subsequent computations.”  Biological computing is attractive because it can interact directly with living things.  Maybe that will someday be a cause for alarm, but for now, they have benefits to human health in mind.  One statement in the article that emphasizes the close ties between natural and artificial computing could have been written by an advocate of intelligent design:

Amazing FactsAll biological systems, and even entire living organisms, are natural molecular computers. Every one of us is a biomolecular computer, that is, a machine in which all components are molecules “talking” to one another in a logical manner. The hardware and software are complex biological molecules that activate one another to carry out some predetermined chemical tasks. The input is a molecule that undergoes specific, programmed changes, following a specific set of rules (software) and the output of this chemical computation process is another well defined molecule.”

A look back at the first biomimetics:  Velcro is one of the classic cases of the imitation of nature.  At Live Science, Ryan Goodrich told the story of Swiss engineer and amateur mountaineer George de Mestral, who conceived the natural “zipperless zipper” by observing cockleburs on a hike in 1948.  The article reveals where the name came from, and brings the story up to the present by mentioning a few of the many applications of this highly useful product that was “Inspired by Nature.”

Most of these instances of biomimetic technology have not been mentioned in previous entries.  That suggests that much, much more awaits to be discovered.  Why not join the fun, and look around your yard for ideas?  What solutions to real-life problems have been solved by plants or animals around you?  Maybe you could become the next millionnaire, plagiarizing what the Creator already invented.  Give Him the glory and He will not mind the imitation.

The quote above is a keeper.  Show that to someone who thinks intelligent design is a science stopper or a religious concept.  On the contrary, I.D. is the only way to understand biology in the 21st century.  ID ID -> IDEA (meaning, IDentify Intelligent Design as a forward-looking idea).


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