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).