June 24, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Living Design Inspires Design

Engineers continue to look to the living world for solutions to practical problems.  One of them is as close as your skin.

Artificial photosynthesis:  As reported here 6/22/13, plants achieve 95% efficiency of light capture compared to man’s 20%.  PhysOrg reported how scientists at Caltech and Berkeley labs are making slow progress toward “An artificial version of photosynthesis … one of the most promising of solar technologies.”  One comment in the press release sounds like old-earth creationism: “For more than two billion years, nature has employed photosynthesis to oxidize water into molecular oxygen.”

Artificial cricket hairs:  A sensitive flow sensor modeled on cricket hairs was announced by Science Daily:

These tiny hairs, which are manufactured using microtechnology techniques, are neatly arranged in rows and mimic the extremely sensitive body hairs that crickets use to detect predators. When a hair moves, the electrical capacitance at its base changes, making the movement measurable. If there is an entire array of hairs, then this effect can be used to measure flow patterns. In the same way, changes in air flow tell crickets that they are about to be attacked.

That’s why crickets are usually able to jump before you swat them.

Artificial butterfly wings:  An old biomimetics story is back, the prospect of improving anti-counterfeiting technology through the use of photonic crystals like those found on butterfly wing scales.  Live Science reported that a Canadian company named Nanotech Security Corporation has imitated the iridiscent wings of the Morpho butterfly to create a pattern that could be placed on paper currency that would be impossible to counterfeit.

The phenomenon Nanotech employs is similar to the way some animals, including male peacocks, produce iridescent colors: instead of using proteins and other chemicals to produce a hue, the creature’s feathers or scales play with light, using very tiny holes that reflect different colors or wavelengths. The Morpho does this with complicated scales on its wing that produce shimmering blues and greens.

The company’s product could be embossed on nearly any surface, making it possible to watermark products like plastics, metals, solar cells, fabrics, paper, and even pills.  Since no dies or paints are required, even images can be embossed on surfaces without affecting their composition.

The work is another example of what scientists call biomimicry, which adapts nature’s solutions for innovative human devices, in this instance, nano-optics, a burgeoning new technology.

Artificial skin:  Who would want to imitate an ugly scab?  Medical engineers, that’s who: “Human scabs have become the model for development of an advanced wound dressing material that shows promise for speeding the healing process,” reported PhysOrg. How would they do it?

They describe how research on the surface structure of natural scabs served as inspiration for developing a “cytophilic” wound dressing material. It attracts new cells needed for healing. The material mimics the underside of scabs, where tiny fibers are arranged in the same direction like velvet or a cat’s fur. Wang’s team spun fibers of polyurethane—the common durable and flexible plastic—into the same pattern. In laboratory experiments, the human cells involved in healing quickly attached to the membrane and lined up like those in actual scabs.

The abstract of the paper in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces states, “This scab-inspired cytophilic membrane is promising in applications as functional interfacial biomaterials for rapid wound healing, bone repair, and construction of neural networks.

Have you ever observed the underside of a scab?  Be thankful for small wonders like these.  Scabs may look gross and ugly for awhile, but they are designed to heal.  Underneath, precision operations are taking place to heal the wound and build new skin to make it like new.  If every scratch and wound we got from childhood onward left permanent scars on our skin, we would be an awful sight by now.  Fortunately, most small wounds are healed so completely we completely forget about the momentary afflictions.

No wonder scientists are imitating living technology.  These are but a few of dozens of ongoing projects that began with inspiration for the intelligent design in nature.  Even though one of the articles assumed billions of years, none of them had any use for evolution.  Intelligent design is guiding science into the information age.


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