Adventures in Biomimetics

The imitation of nature in engineering has become one of the hottest trends in science. Almost every week, amazing technologies are being advanced the easy way – by observing how living things do it. We all stand to benefit from the design-based science of biomimetics. Here are a few recent examples.

Pascal to Your Health

Blaise Pascal joins Louis Pasteur among the ranks of creation scientists who have improved the safety and nutrition of our food. We all know about pasteurization, the process of eliminating germs by gentle heating, but have you heard of pascalization? It’s “a century-old food preservation technology, finding a new life amid 21st century concerns about food safety and nutrition,” reported Science Daily. The process “more than doubles the levels of certain healthful natural antioxidants in fruit.” Pascalization will give new meaning to the term “fresh squeezed”.

Lucky in the Sky with Diamonds

There are treasures all around us we do not perceive. Sometimes we speak figuratively about sparkling gems that are, if we realized it, literally real, right there under our noses. Children sing, “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are, up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky” without knowing that there really are diamond stars up there, with diamond planets, so magnificent and huge they are unfathomable in value. These are actual discoveries that have been announced by scientists this week.

Hi-Tech Pharmaceutical Plants Are Green

In environmental lingo, what could be greener than a tree? And what is more despised by many environmentalists than chemical companies, especially the pharmaceutical and pesticide industries? Maybe we should take a tip from plants. They are not just environmentally friendly, they produce a myriad of complex compounds that are slowly finding their way into healthful products—and evolutionists have no idea how they do it.

Your Rotary Engines Are Arranged in Factories

As if ATP synthase was not amazing enough, a team of scientists in Germany now tells us they are arranged in rows with other equipment to optimize performance. From electron micrographs of intact mitochondria, they were able to detect the rotary engines of ATP synthase and other parts of the respiratory chain. Their diagram in an open-source paper in PNAS looks for all the world like a factory.

Unique Mammal Senses

The ability to sense the environment is vital to all living things, and is a key characteristic that separates life from non-life. The senses are not limited to the five we learn as children – sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. In the animal kingdom there are more. Some of them repurpose existing organs; some detect other information from the world not detectable with the normal sense organs. In mammals, two very different animals – bats and dolphins – have expanded our understanding of sensation.

Butterfly Swarm Buries Darwin

Billions of butterflies, flashing their gossamer wings with brilliant colors, have swarmed over Darwin, leaving him unable to breathe. Figuratively, that is. Illustra Media’s new documentary Metamorphosis, just released on Blu-Ray last week, leaves little room for Darwin’s theory, while making a powerful case for intelligent design. The film is already being hailed as a masterpiece.

Body Language Says Design

Your body is speaking to scientists. Some of them hear it saying evolution. Others think it says intelligent design. What characteristics would each side expect? Most people intuitively know design when they see it. Here are three recent scientific papers that may help interpret body language.

Cell Operations Amaze, Inspire

A student's view of a cell under a light microscope is misleading.  It reveals only a tiny fraction of what is really going on.  Within that package of life, invisible to the student's gaze, complex machines work together in cellular factories.  Signals pass back and forth in complex networks.  Libraries of code are transcribed and […]

Plant Patterns Prolong Perplexity

Plants perform a wonder that has attracted the admiration of scholars from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome to modern times: the ability to reproduce mathematically perfect patterns. This ability, called phyllotaxis, can be described mathematically with the Fibonacci Series and the Golden Angle. The beautiful spirals in sunflowers, artichokes, cacti, dandelion heads and other plants continue to fascinate children and adults today, but those are not the only examples. Leaves on a stem can emerge in phyllotactic patterns like a spiral staircase, and depending on the environment, plants can switch patterns at different stages in development. Scientists have learned a lot about the players in the phyllotaxis game, but still do not understand the script. The details of how genes and proteins produce the patterns remain elusive.

Complex Arthropod Eyes Found in Early Cambrian

Complex eyes with modern optics from an unknown arthropod, more complex than trilobite eyes, have been discovered in early Cambrian strata from southern Australia. The exquisitely-preserved imprints of the eyes in shale were reported by Lee et al. in Nature. The abstract started by quoting Darwin and affirming evolution, but then revealed evidence that complex eyes go further back in the fossil record than previously thought possible.

Follow the Leader: Nature

Ever since biomimetics (the imitation of nature) gradually emerged around 2002 and really took off in 2005, it has not slowed down. Over 90 previous entries in these pages have reported teams all over the world seeking out natural designs for ideas. The reports have accelerated in recent years to the point where there is only space for short summaries that give a taste of the wide variety of engineering work taking inspiration from plants, animals, and even cells. You yourself might inspire some inventor. Here are a few more highlights from recent adventures in biomimetics.

Inner Ear Hair Cells Overcome Friction

The cochlea, that spiral-shaped structure in the inner ear, is filled with fluid. In this fluid, tiny hair cells called stereocilia are positioned in bundles along the length of the structure. These bundles sense vibrations transmitted into the fluid from the bony levers of the inner ear. The vibrations picked up by the hair cell bundles, each tuned to its own frequency, mechanically transduce the sound impulses by opening ion channels that set up electrical impulses in the auditory nerve, that travel to the brain. But motion in fluid creates friction known as viscous drag. How do the hair cell bundles overcome it? Scientists have figured out that the hair cells in the bundles are not only finely tuned to reduce viscous drag, but actually to employ it for even higher sensitivity to sound.

Appreciate Your Gifts

We like to showcase stories of amazing animals, but humans are special, too. What animal can boast some of the qualities that science has recently reported?

How They Do It: Amazing Organisms

The plants and animals around us seem so ordinary, but they all are so extraordinary, the extraordinary becomes ordinary simply because of their numbers. But if you expanded the sample space to include the entire solar system, what we have in earth’s biosphere should astonish everyone. Here are nine notable fellow creatures.
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