July 30, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

The Best Science Follows Design

Sir Francis Bacon emphasized that you will know good science by its fruits. Here are good examples of fruitful research that took inspiration from nature’s designs.

Chameleon Smartphones

Credit: Bernard Gagnon.

Chameleon-inspired nanolaser changes colors (Science Daily). How do chameleons change colors? The answer: by shifting the spacing of nanocrystals on their skin. Can you think of any human technologies that need to do that? How about TVs and smartphones? Using this principle, researchers at Northwestern University first had to research how this is done in the lizards.

“Chameleons can easily change their colors by controlling the spacing among the nanocrystals on their skin, which determines the color we observe,” said Teri W. Odom, Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “This coloring based on surface structure is chemically stable and robust.

Good science led to good fruit. Using the same principle, “the Northwestern team’s laser exploits periodic arrays of metal nanoparticles on a stretchable, polymer matrix,” allowing them to change the emitted color at will. “The work could open the door for advances in flexible optical displays in smartphones and televisions, wearable photonic devices and ultra-sensitive sensors that measure strain.”

Diatoms (Mark Armitage)

Diatom Nanotechnology

Single-celled architects inspire new nanotechnology (Science Daily). A quarter of the oxygen we breathe comes from “microscopic, jewel-like products of nature” called diatoms. You can find these microscopic jewels in oceans, lakes, rivers, and soils. Inspiration from their beautiful designs began in the 18th century. That led to curiosity, which led to good science. Researchers found out amazing things, all the way from their chemistry and microstructure to their ecological role for the whole biosphere.

Through their respiration, they produce close to a quarter of the oxygen on earth, nearly as much as the world’s tropical forests. In addition to their ecological success across the planet, they have a number of remarkable properties. Diatoms live in glasslike homes of their own design, visible under magnification in an astonishing and aesthetically beautiful range of forms….

Scientists have found that the silica architectures of diatoms are not only inspiringly elegant but exceptionally tough. Indeed, the silica exoskeletons enveloping diatoms have the highest specific strength of any biologically produced material, including bone, antlers, and teeth.

The scientific discoveries, in turn, inspired good fruit. Wanting to mimic these properties, researchers in Arizona and Shanghai have “designed a range of diatom-like nanostructures.” This article uses the word “inspire” five times.

Insect Wing Drones

An insect-inspired drone deforms upon impact (Science Daily). Drone owners understand the deep moan when watching their expensive toy crash. Insects seem to withstand impacts; what gives? The insect wing gives, that’s what. The origami-like structure in insect wings can fold and absorb blows. Japanese engineers put that kind of flexibility into joints in their insect-wing-inspired drones, and found that they survive much better. “This new type of drone, which was inspired by insect wings, draws on the advantages of both stiff and flexible structures.”

Biological Light

What is bioluminescence and how is it used by humans and in nature? (The Conversation). Cardiff University researcher Catrin Williams tells about some of the many organisms that generate light in nature. In her opening paragraphs, she pretends to know more than Darwin:

Bioluminescence, the production and emission of light by living organisms, became a sticking point for Darwin. He struggled to explain why this phenomenon appeared in separate species in a seemingly random fashion. We now know, however, that bioluminescence has evolved independently at least 40 times on land and in the sea.

Always be on the lookout when you hear a scientist say “we now know,” because you may be in for a bluffing exhibition. This one is a doozy. Rather than admitting the misfit with Darwin’s theory and the evidence, she leaps into belief in 40 evolutionary miracles! The facts that Williams shares need no help from Darwin.

An embedded video shows how millions of “sea sparkle” plankton light up when disturbed by people throwing rocks into the sea or walking out into the water. Williams next tells how nature’s design has inspired imitations and uses all the way through human history, culminating in today’s “green energy” inventions and the green fluorescent protein from jellyfish that has revolutionized biomedicine and won its discoverers a Nobel Prize.

Please don’t choke on Williams’ final sentence: “The evolutionary process that culminated in bioluminescence may have taken million of years, but its scientific applications continue to revolutionise our modern world,” she says, presumptuously assuming her hearers are Darwin DODOs, too. “Remember that, the next time you see the sea sparkle.” Wouldn’t you rather remember the Creator of these wonders? The Bible has much to say about light, starting from “Let there be light” as God’s first creative act, to Christ the Light of the World glorified in the light of the eternal heaven. In His light and works, we see the light in science. Good science takes inspiration from the Creator’s designs, and turns them into creative applications to show love to fellow humans. Remember, it was Jesus Christ who told the disciples that you would know good teachers by their fruits. That phrase is what inspired Francis Bacon to distinguish good science from bad.


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