August 25, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Applications from Nature

In this Biomimetics list, we start with the application, then tell you what organism inspired it.

Unlimited biological wonders, and unlimited applications. Watch how the two come together in surprising ways.

Highly permeable filters that can separate liquids and gas.  Where: Penn State.  Inspiration: aquaporins in cells. Source: PNAS, Science Daily.

Solar concentrator. Where: University of Exeter. Inspiration: white cabbage butterfly. Source: Science Daily.

Flexible electronics and body armor. Where: UC San Diego. Inspiration: boxfish. Source: Science Daily.

Robots on water.  Where: Seoul National University and Harvard. Inspiration: water striders. Source: Live Science.

Safe motorcycle helmets.  Where: Cellucomp Ltd (Scotland). Inspiration: carrot fibers. Source: Science Daily.

Aerospace composite materials: Where: Universiti Putra Malaysia. Inspiration: pineapple fibers and other plant materials. Source: PhysOrg.

Underwater adhesives.  Where: UC Santa Barbara. Inspiration: mussels and barnacles. Source: Science Magazine.

Stealth autonomous submarines with high thrust and low wakes.  Where: George Washington University. Inspiration: sea lions and seals. Source: PhysOrg, The Conversation.

Drone camera.  Where: multiple European institutions. Inspiration: fly compound eyes. Source: PhysOrg.

Grippers for orbital space debris.  Where: NASA-JPL. Inspiration: gecko toes. Source: PhysOrg.

Frictionless steel surfaces.  Where: Institute for Applied Materials. Inspiration: snake scales. Source: PhysOrg.

Low-energy artificial light.  Where: Yale, U of Connecticut, U of Buffalo. Inspiration: fireflies. Source: PhysOrg.

Biodegradable Medical sutures.  Where: Oxford and College of William and Mary. Inspiration: spiders, silkworms. Source: PhysOrg.

Environmental sensors for robots or keyhole surgery.  Where: Singapore, US. Inspiration: whiskers on cats, rats, seals. Source: The Conversation.

Cooperative robots.  Where: University of Leuven (Belgium). Inspiration: leaf-cutter ants. Source: Science Magazine.

Ultrasound and SIRI smartphone listeners. Where: Duke University. Inspiration: human auditory center and the “cocktail party conundrum.” Source: Science Daily.

Ultrasound sensor for structural cracks.  Where: Univ. of Strathclyde. Inspiration: bats, dolphins, cockroaches and moths. Source: Science Daily.

Programmable dynamic materials.  Where: Univ. of Massachusetts at Amherst. Inspiration: Venus flytrap. Source: Science Daily.

Look at how many institutions around the world are involved in the biomimetics gold rush. This is an astonishing development that was long overdue. Before the turn of the millennium, there were only a few cases of biomimicry, like the famous example of Velcro. The living world is a gold mine that was waiting to be discovered. Darwinism didn’t bring this. The needs of a complex society, concerns about unsustainable practices, and the increasing appreciation of design in organisms, sparked a revolution. Researchers began to think, “Why do do we need to invent solutions from scratch, when nature has the best solutions right under our noses?”

What’s cool about the Biomimetics Revolution is that scientists have to “think design” when looking at an animal or plant. Biomimicry also stimulates basic research, because you have to understand the animal or plant to imitate it. Everyone benefits, while Darwin disappears off the stage like a Cheshire cat. The last Darwinist looking at the Cheshire cat might admire its whiskers and get some ideas for sensors for his colleague’s robot.

Watch these fascinating TED talks about natural designs: Michael Pawlyn, and Janine Benyus gush over the great ideas we can learn from in nature. The speakers make great statements about “design principles” and the “genius of the natural world,” except for the Stupid Evolution Quotes claiming evolution has had “3.8 million years of R&D and field testing.” Quotable quote: “Life adds information to matter.”


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