April 18, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Plastic Proteins and Turtle Skis

Here’s news about the latest technologies coming out of biomimetics, the imitation of nature’s designs.

Turtle skis. Before the spring skiing season is over, strap on your turtle-shell skis. PhysOrg says that new skis designed to mimic turtle scales will flex more in relation to your body position on the slopes, while remaining shock-resistant. A researcher thought about turtles, and an idea was born:

The idea of mimicking the morphology of turtles occurred to Véronique Michaud, a researcher at EPFL’s Laboratory of Polymer and Composite Technology, while she was attending a seminar on bioinspired materials. “The scales of a turtle interlock, like a jigsaw puzzle, and are connected by a polymer,” said Michaud. “When turtles breathe, the scales separate slightly and the shell becomes flexible. But when an external shock occurs, the shell tightens and stiffens. It struck me immediately that we could build these features into skis.”

Bacteria batteries. Today’s lithium batteries are unsafe, costly and dirty. Why not make power with living power plants? This would be especially helpful for solar and wind power that needs to be stored. Science Daily says that Dutch researchers see a future in bacteria batteries:

The researchers combined, for the first time, two separate microbial energy systems: one that uses bacteria to form acetate from electricity and one to convert the produced acetate back into electricity. The researchers successfully charged the battery over a 16-hour period and discharged it over the next 8 hours, mimicking the day-night pattern typical for solar energy production. They repeated this cycle 15 times in as many days. With further optimization, they say the energy density of the microbial battery could be competitive with conventional technologies. Someday it could help us store energy from local renewable sources safely and at a lower cost than current options.

Spider water collector. Why do raindrops stick to spider webs? Korean researchers looked into this, Science Daily says, and found that the adhesion of water to a fiber depends on its speed. A mechanical engineer in Seoul commented, “Engineers will apply our results to control the amount of liquid retained on fibers for water-collection from foggy air, air-filtration, and fiber-coating technologies.”

Plastic proteins. What if you could build polymers the way proteins do? Science Daily put this into a long headline: “Plastic proteins: Synthetic material mimics essential characteristics of natural proteins: With inexpensive chemical base, variety of materials could be as limitless as proteins are.” This could give a whole new ID-friendly meaning to the phrase, “building blocks of life.” Synthetic building blocks can be more durable than amino acids while making good use of the design principle that sequence leads to function. Let’s quote the article’s paean of praise for proteins:

BM-AmazingFacts-cellProteins are at the core of life: In living things, they are architect and engineer. They are the wrenches and machines that build an organism’s varied parts, building those parts out of other proteins of many sizes and shapes. They form the power plants in cells, run the plants, make energy and store energy. They make things grow, and are the bricks of growth as well.

Because of their versatility, proteins are some of researchers’ favorite tools.

Moth-eye solar cells. Here’s an update on an old biomimetics classic from Science Daily. The compound eyes of moths have desirable properties like anti-reflectivity and a self-cleaning surface. But they are not alone in the living world as sources of inspiration, this time for Chinese scientists (as you can tell from the English translation):

Nature is no doubt the world’s best biological engineer, whose simple, exquisite but powerful designs have inspired scientists and engineers to tackle the challenges of technologies for centuries. Scientists recently mimicked the surface structure of a moth’s eye, a unique structure with an antireflective property, to develop a highly light-absorbent graphene material. This is breakthrough in solar cell technology. Rice leaves and butterfly wings also have unique self-cleaning surface characteristics, which inspire scientists to develop novel materials resistant to biofouling. The bio-inspired periodic multi-scale structures, called hierarchical structures, have recently caught broad attention among scientists in various applications such as solar cells, Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), biomaterials and anti-bacterial surfaces.

Coincidentally, an American team is also imitating moth eyes to create silicon solar cells, Science Daily reports.

Ant sunshields. This article on Live Science doesn’t mention biomimetic applications directly, but one can feel inspiration offstage. There’s an ant species in the hot Sahara that has silvery hairs that reflect the sun’s heat like tiny mirrors, allowing the ants to keep their cool even in ground temperatures of 122 °F. The secret is in an optical property called total internal reflection. It gives the ants 10 times as much reflectivity as ants shaved of their silver hairs. Now that scientists know how it works, whose to stop an entrepreneur from thinking of ways to imitate it? This cooling secret is apparently unique to this ant, and is also the first time total internal reflection determines the color of an organism, too.

Artificial leaf. An update on the challenge to create an artificial leaf, posted by Science Daily, says that Japanese scientists are making progress on one aspect of plant life, getting ammonia from N2 molecules. Plants make it look so easy.

Whisker navigation. Rodents use their whiskers to sense their surroundings in dark, narrow places where vision and hearing are limited (like inside the walls of your house). Seals in the ocean do this, too. Engineers from America and Singapore are making progress using this technique on robots, Science Daily says, but the man-made versions use plastic and wire. Their progress is published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. So far, the animals are way ahead of man’s clumsy contraptions:

Amazing FactsCurrently, the whiskers developed in this study can only form two-dimensional images. Creating three-dimensional images would require a more sophisticated mathematical model to interpret the signals coming in, as well as improving the whisker sensors, making them smaller and more flexible. Not only this, but because humans have only begun to understand how animals in the wild use their whiskers to read their environment, it is important to continue research to find out how animals such as seals actively process vibrissal signals in their brains in different situations, and to understand how their whiskers are designed to do so.

“Designed to do so”? Where were the Darwin censors on that one?

Use your influence to promote biomimetics. It’s the antidote to Darwinism. Think of the potential for science projects at school, or motivation for budding entrepreneurs. There’s no need to use the words “intelligent design”; it may freak out teachers unnecessarily or alert the ACLU. Just do what these scientists are doing. If anyone worries, you can quote the articles above to show how major science labs are using the word design. It’s all purely secular, but it gets people thinking along design lines instead of blind, unguided processes. Who needs Darwin just-so storytellers when you can show off real turtle-shell skis or whiskered robots? Cool! Think of the crowds gathering around your kid’s science fair poster about ant sunshields. Think of the customers buying your bacteria batteries and moth-eye solar panels. Evolution is going to seem so quaint, so 1859 in the new design gold rush. This is a positive way to destroy the power of the Darwin Sharia police.




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  • John_Michael says:

    It’s design, all the way down.

    I just had to log in and post that.

    Another great post. Not that any of them are bad.
    But, .. Thanks again CEH!

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