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Spider Hair: The Perfect Water Repellant Surface

To keep dry, make like a spider.  “Engineering researchers have crafted a flat surface that refuses to get wet,” began a press release from University of Florida.  “Water droplets skitter across it like ball bearings tossed on ice.  The inspiration?  Not wax.  Not glass.  Not even Teflon.”  The audience waits breathlessly for the answer.  “Instead, […]

The Brain You Use, and How It Uses You

Neuroscientists continue to find out amazing things about the human brain.  In some ways we are responsible to use our brains, but in other ways the brain does things to us.  If nobody has figured out where the dividing line is for thousands of years, it’s unlikely we will today; but the following findings can […]

Life Masters Physics

Living things, especially cells, have mastered the forces of advanced physics in ingenious ways.  This ingenuity sometimes inspires physicists to try to copy it.  Here are some recent examples: Photosynthesis and quantum mechanics:  Nature reported that plants take advantage of quantum mechanics in photosynthesis.1  “The photosynthetic apparatus of cryptophyte algae is odd – its pigments […]

Spider Webs Are Precision Dew Collectors

Photographs of dew drops on spider webs are favorite targets for nature photographers, because they resemble strings of pearls on fine jewelry (example 1, example 2).  But did you know the reason dewdrops bead up so well on webs is due to the fine microstructure of the spider silk?  A team of Chinese scientists studied […]

To Advance Technology, Make Like Nature

Scientists and engineers continue to find the most elegant solutions to practical problems by looking at plants and animals.  Here are a few of the recent examples. Wet computing:  Cells and brains do a superior job of complex processing, so why are our current computers singing how dry I am?  Not for much longer.  Science […]

Robot Designers Strive to Match Animals

Engineers feel great satisfaction when their robots can match just some of the feats of animals.  What does that say about the design of the animals? It’s a bird, it’s a plane:  The first “hummingbird robot” was unveiled by Japanese researcher Hiroshi Liu (Chiba University) in a press release published by PhysOrg.  The hand-sized device […]

Clever Animals Inspire Lookers – And Engineers

Incredible animals provide endless delights with their antics.  Even microorganisms are capable of amazing feats.  Sometimes these living things inspire inventors, too. Coconut octopus:  Tool use was supposed to be a late marker of primate intelligence as chimpanzees were evolving upward to manhood.  That’s so 1890.  Now that we know crows can use tools (05/26/2009), […]

Taking Inspiration from Nature

In the previous entry, Darwin inspired some geologists, even though he was wrong.  Here are some news stories showing nature inspiring engineers with wonders right under their noses. Aerodynamic seed:  A plant in Java has seeds that are perfect gliders.  The BBC News said of the Alsomitra vine: “The seeds, which are produced by a […]

New Word Means Green Living: Bioplastics

Did you know that 10% of America’s oil consumption goes into making plastic?  The plastic products from oil pollute our landfills and harm the environment.  Next month, a company founded by a biology professor from MIT is going to make plastic from something green: corn.     Anthony Siskey and Oliver Peoples, according to PhysOrg, […]

Insect Wing Photocopied for Good

Biomimetics is the new science of imitating nature – but why not save a step, and just copy the design directly?  That’s what Aussie and British researchers did.  They wanted a self-cleaning surface that could repel moisture and dust, so they made a template of an insect wing.  And why not?  “Insects are incredible nanotechnologists,” […]

To Advance Science, Imitate Nature

Biomimetics – the imitation of nature – continues to be one of the hottest areas in science.  Here are a few of the latest findings coming from the world of living creatures. Fish robot:  National Geographic News shows a photo of the latest thing in underwater robotics: a robotic submarine modeled after the Amazonian knifefish.  […]

Introducing the Maple-Copter

Plants are not as stationary as one might think.  Parts of them, like seeds, can travel for miles.  One good example is the maple seed.  Its little helicopter seeds can catch an updraft and fly a long distance from the tree.  Now, engineers at University of Maryland have imitated its physics and designed a radio-controlled […]

How to Copy a Butterfly Wing

Here’s what you have to do to copy a butterfly wing without destroying it: create compounds using Germanium, Selenium and Stibium.  Combine thermal evaporation and substrate rotation in a low pressure chamber.  Immerse in an aqueous orthophosphoric acid solution to dissolve the chitin.  If you are lucky, you can copy the delicate nanostructure of a […]

Lotus Glass Repels Water, Dirt, Bacteria

Imagine never having to wash your windows again.  That would be a huge boon not only for window washers on skyscrapers, but for astronauts on the space shuttle or space station.  It may become a reality, thanks to the lotus plant.     Science Daily reported on work by a company in Atlanta that has […]

Nature’s Designs Are Engineers’ Finds

Nature is a treasure trove of technology.  Though engineers have garnered inspiration from nature since the Wright brothers and before, it seems that in recent years there has been a gold rush to follow nature’s lead. Wet glue:  Worms may not be very inspiring to most people, but Science News reported that scientists at the […]
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