Saturday, November 24, 2012

Learning Innovation from Nature - Biomimetics


The term biomimetics comes from the Greek word ‘bios’ meaning ‘life’ and ‘mimetic’ which means ‘having an aptitude for mimicry”. It was coined by Otto Schmitt during the 1950’s to describe a process being used by scientists and engineers. Biomimetics is the science of studying the structure and function of biological systems in order to develop models for designs in material science, machines, medicine and other fields.

As they gain understanding of how plants and animals function in nature, engineers and scientists find mimicking these functions often creates more efficient technologies. Below are two interesting examples.

The scorpion’s armor in harsh, desert conditions. Machines in the desert are subject to erosion through particles of dirt and sand that work their way into moving parts. It was discovered that scorpions protect their bodies with bumpy, grooved exoskeletons in serious desert sand storms where manmade machines would quickly breakdown. To reduce rubbing from airborne sand, the patterns on the scorpion’s armor modify the way that air flows over the scorpion’s back, thus reducing damage to the exoskeleton. Engineers have found that simulating these natural patterns found on scorpions helps to avoid sand damage on machines.

Sunflower heads, and optimum arrangement of mirrors in solar power towers. Solar power stations operate with a large number of mirrors arranged around a tower, focusing solar energy on a central tower. The working fluid on the top of the tower converts the liquid into steam, which then turns a turbine thus generating electric power. The distribution of these mirrors (exceeding 400 in number) requires large acreage. Seeking to reduce the space required for the mirrors, engineers stumbled on a design pattern used by sunflower heads, which follows Fermat’s principle, i.e, a spiral in which each element is set at a constant angle of 137 degrees. When researchers programmed their model to arrange these mirrors around the tower, the new spiral arrangement improved the efficiency of the solar energy collection process by reducing the space required.

Both the scorpion and the sunflower, not often considered important in our fast-paced lives, demonstrate the care with which they were designed. As he taught the crowds gathered on a hillside in Galilee, Jesus said, “Why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:29) If God so carefully designed these living things, does He not also have a design for your life?  "I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  (Jeremiah 29:11)

References are from Sci American podcast, News in Science, The Economist (on the Fermat’s spiral-Google).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Miracle in the Womb


"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depth of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be."

Psalm 139:13-16

Friday, November 2, 2012

Birth and Death of Stars

Orion Nebula & Star Cluster

Stars, like all life on earth, go through the cycle of birth and death, with a finite life span in between. Physics Today recently published an article describing this cycle for stars and clusters of stars. The article speculates that the number of stars in the million year age group, reveal that star formation has increased in the past 10 million years. Our sun is one star that belongs to the so-called main sequence group that constitutes mature stars. Unstable young, hot stars and cooler red stars that are in the twilight of their lives constitute the other groups. 

The phenomenon of giant gas clouds giving birth to stars is especially strong in the constellation of Orion. Most constellations visible to the naked eye are composed of stars at vastly different distances from the earth. They do exhibit patterns that have been named from antiquity, such as the Big Dipper. If one takes the statement given in Genesis 1:14 literally (“Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky…to serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years"), some of these constellations may represent signs in the sky of events that have taken place or will do so in the future. For astronomers however, these are ‘chance juxtapositions of stars at vastly different distances’. However, there are two constellations, the Orion Nebula cluster and the Pleiades, famously known as the Seven Sisters, that form true physical associations. What is fascinating about these clusters, especially the Orion Nebula cluster, is that new stars are being formed in these clusters today. They are classified by astronomers as young ‘OB associations’, which represent the hottest stars in the universe. 

The life and death cycle of stars is controlled by the well-known Second Law of Thermodynamics. This simply states that all natural phenomena proceed from an initial stage of order to one of disorder. In other words, the universe as a whole is slowly winding down, from an initial burst of super energy at creation. Psalm 102: 25-26 states: “…in the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth and heavens…they will all wear out like a garment”What is even more fascinating is that Orion and the Pleiades are the two constellations mentioned explicitly in the book of Job (38:31) where God tells Job: “...can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?” Today we find that both constellations have special significance for astronomers, as true clusters where young stars are being born. Here again we see the wonders in the universe, as  observed and analyzed by astronomers, and those wonders mentioned in Scriptures as part of God’s eternal plan.

For details see Physics Today, October 2012:Physics Today