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The Uses of Wood Rot

Wood rot fungus doesn’t sound like a useful thing.  Most people would rather get rid of it – especially those who have seen their houses decay because of it.  Some scientists, however, are intrigued by it.  It may have properties that could some day help power your car.     Science Daily reported that the […]

Modeling Solar Cells on Butterflies

Sunlight is free – if we could just learn how to use it better.  For decades, engineers have been trying to improve the efficiency of solar cells.  Why not look at nature?  Science Daily reported on work going on in China and Japan: “The discovery that butterfly wings have scales that act as tiny solar […]

Corn Is Fuel in More Ways than One

There’s been controversy lately about the diversion of corn crops from food for humans to ethanol for engines.  Why not both?  A new pilot program announced by Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft saves the corn cobs for eating but makes ethanol out of the straw.  If so, this would make the whole plant an energy factory for the human […]

Minerals Can Fool Astrobiologists

Look at this picture on National Geographic News.  Looks alive, doesn’t it?  It’s only a mineral.  The article contains a gallery of five micrographs of minerals that form curvy crystals.  They’re called biomorphs (a word simply meaning life-like shapes).     “Until now scientists had thought rounded crystals, such as those found in seashells and […]

Handy Motor Found in Virus

Your job today is to stuff a delicate chain into a barrel without breaking it and make it wrap neatly inside.  A tiny virus does this with helping hands, reported Purdue University.  A research team uncovered the mechanism of a “powerful molecular motor” that crams the viral DNA tightly into the capsid with the help […]

Fly Swiftly

The common swift is being eyed by aircraft engineers who want to go fast, high, and green.  Science Daily says these engineers are “inspired by nature.”     Calling Apus apus a common “swift” is like calling an orange an orange.  They are swift!  These incredible birds dart about effortlessly and spend their lives almost […]

Thanks to Clam Design, Stronger Materials Are Coming

Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs have produced a lightweight composite material 300 times stronger than its constituents.  How?  By taking inspiration from clams.     The team, writing in Science,1 described nacre, the shiny mother-of-pearl found inside clam shells.  Because of the way it sandwiches crystalline aragonite with layers of protein (07/26/2004), nacre resists […]

Knowledge of Light Is Power

Now that engineers are becoming adept at manipulating materials at the scale of billionths of a meter, they are taking first steps toward using a power source familiar to plants: light.  Science Daily described the first humble attempts to get light photons to drive nano-sized machines.     The article did not mention whether photosynthesis […]

Snails Walk on Water

Why is that scientist staring at a snail?  He’s watching a miracle: walking on water.  This is not our exaggeration: Matt Kaplan on National Geographic News entitled his article, “How Snails Walk on Water Is a Small Miracle.”  If we can figure out the trick, we might be able to make little robots do it […]

Living Better Bioelectrically

Electric eels are inspiring a new generation of fuel cells.  Science Daily reported that a remarkable fusion of engineering and biology may lead to tiny electronic devices that run on biology’s own energy currency, ATP.  “Engineers long have known that great ideas can be lifted from Mother Nature, but a new paper by researchers at […]

Fastest Squirt Gun in the Fungi

A paper on PLoS One described the highest-speed flights in all nature: the spore discharge mechanisms in certain fungi.  A dozen scientists in Ohio worked to capture the action on ultra-high-speed cameras.  It took 250,000 frames per second to reveal how fast the projectiles accelerate.  The answer: from 20,000 to 180,000 g (where g = […]

Butterfly Wings Xeroxed

If you can’t build it, copy it.  Scientists have had a hard time reconstructing the photonic crystals that make butterfly wings shimmer with light (01/29/2003), so they made, in effect, a carbon copy.  PhysOrg described how scientists at Penn State made impressions of the regularly-spaced geometric shapes from a butterfly wing and transferred it to […]

New Camera Imitates Eyeball

Scientists at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University have succeeded in manufacturing stretchable optical electronic sensors on curved surfaces.  This will open up a whole new world of new imaging products – inventions that imitate the human eyeball.  The team said this about the eyeball in their paper in Nature:1  The human eye is […]

Defeat Spam: Imitate the Body’s Defenses

Your body’s immune system is inspiring the next generation of email spam-fighters.  The University of Southampton reported that “An algorithm for spam recognition inspired by the immune system will be presented at the first European conference on Artificial Life (ALIFE XI) being held in Winchester this week.”     The idea is that “in the […]

Can Worms Outsmart Humans?

Worms may seem creepy to some people, but they possess some amazing abilities.  How many of you had to struggle through calculus class, for instance?  Worms know it by heart, reported Greg Soltis at Live Science.  Their brains instinctively apply the logic of calculus to input signals from sensory inputs.  A University of Oregon biologist […]
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