March 15, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Sunday Inspiration

Need inspiration today? Look at designs in nature. Even secular scientists are getting inspired.

Eye this robot: CNRS engineers have used a “bio-inspired eye” to guide their robotic flyer. Named “BeeRotor,” the robot is able to fly over uneven terrain more smoothly, without an accelerometer, using the “optic flow” method used by insects like honeybees. A short video shows their creation in action. “It can fly along a tunnel with uneven, moving walls without measuring either speed or altitude” without bumping into obstacles. See update on the 2/27/15 entry about the many optimizations in the vertebrate eye for visual acuity and color perception.

Smooth as silk: Bio-engineers at the Polytechnic University of Madrid have found a way to produce a material like the strongest spider silk, using an old technique that extracted silk from silkworms. They extracted the spinnerets from spiders to get the actual proteins that make its silk so strong. “Silk is indeed a biomaterial with excellent mechanical properties and great strength and deformability,” the article says. “Besides, by using the available biotechnological techniques [it] is possible, in principle, to obtain artificial silks with improved properties like the ability to facilitate cell adhesion for applications such as scaffolds for regeneration of damaged tissues.”

Make like a leaf: Part of a long quest, Caltech has taken one step closer to creating artificial photosynthesis. “Caltech scientists, inspired by a chemical process found in leaves, have developed an electrically conductive film that could help pave the way for devices capable of harnessing sunlight to split water into hydrogen fuel.” But the lead researcher cautions that “scientists are still a long way off from developing a commercial product that can convert sunlight into fuel” as efficiently and reliably as the tree in your yard.

Beautiful faces and oil spills: At a startup called GlycoSurf in Arizona, “Sugar-based, bio-inspired surfactants hold promises from cosmetics to oil spill cleanups,” reports PhysOrg. Inspired by “green” chemicals produced by plants that are biodegradable, the company, working in connection with the University of Arizona, is part of a multi-billion-dollar industrial search for cleaner products.

Gone fishing:  How do “inertial swimmers” like fish travel efficiently? A team from Harvard and the University of France, publishing in PNAS, had to do some pretty heavy physics to understand the “passive body elasticity, hydrodynamics, muscular activation, and proprioceptive sensory feedback” in various fish. What’s that good for? “Finally, we show that a self-organized propulsive gait can be achieved via a proprioceptive mechanism wherein local muscle activation is driven by shape change, without the need for a central pattern generator, suggestive of ways to engineer robotic swimmers.

Amazing FactsColor change act:  Ever wonder how a chameleon changes colors? The effect was recently explained in a paper in Nature Communications (see summary and video clip on Live Science); the lizard has two layers of “iridophores” that use photonic crystals (evenly-spaced structures) that refract and intensify light. When a male lizard finds an attractive female, or gets angry at another male rival, it stretches the layer. This changes the wavelength from green to bright yellow or red.  The Optical Society has produced a material based on this principle that changes color when stretched. Flexibility, they found, was the key. They see “multiple applications” for this chameleon-like effect. Incidentally, the scientists found that the lizard has a second iridophore layer with chaotic structures. These reflect infrared wavelengths (i.e., heat), suggesting that the animal has a self-activated cooling mechanism.

Bird loan: This one is not about biomimetics per se, but bio-borrowing. Birds generate sufficient power in their strong flight muscles to fly many miles without stopping. Biologists want to track their movements, but geolocators get heavy when batteries are added. Why not just borrow some of the flapping power of the bird? That’s the gist of a story on PhysOrg: “Beating bird wings generate electricity for data collector.”

Pop when wet: Finally, a cute video on New Scientist shows how gecko skin stays dry. Known already as a source of bio-inspiration for their ability to walk up glass, the gecko has a skin that repels water in an unsual way. Water droplets bead up on tiny hairs on the scales, till when they reach a certain size, they pop off like popcorn. In the future, “the effect could be harnessed for developing novel water- and bacteria-repellent surfaces, or water-harnessing surfaces” for the health and materials industries.” The video of this “explosive self-cleaning trick” is set to a popping musical soundtrack.

Biomimetics is a breath of fresh air in science, in a world of scientific institutions enslaved to secular consensus, politics and Darwinism. For the ultimate inspiration, though, nothing compares with God’s special revelation in Christ and in His Word. Read Psalm 119 for a list of 175 reasons.


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  • St-Wolfen says:

    It’s interesting that they are so interested in developing ways to produce hydrogen for fuel, yet the auto companies in concert with the oil companies have engineered their cars to defeat all efforts of the many people who are producing and using HHO systems. This is reminiscent of the way they rejected Tesla and endorsed Edison, because Tesla’s systems would have basically meant free power for the public. For those who don’t know about HHO, it’s electrolysis of water to split the water molecule into its basic elements, two hydrogen, and one oxygen atom, the perfect fuel.

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