What can we learn from nature? Everything!
It turns out, we are surrounded by brilliantly-designed inventions that can teach us a lot. "Biomimicry" is the science that studies nature's inventions to inspire innovations for our daily lives. In short, old ideas are new ideas - and they are just waiting to be discovered. Plus, mimicking nature helps identify sustainable solutions that are compatible with our planet.
Natural resource scientist Janine Benyus is a huge proponent who says biomimicry is also a fresh look at how we view the world. "[W]e live in a competent universe, we are part of a brilliant planet, and we are surrounded by genius. The core idea is that life's been on Earth 3.8 billion years and that's a lot of R&D."
Stories of Inventions Discovered Through Biomimicry
- Swiss Electrical Engineer George de Mestral goes on a walk with his dog, who often returns with burs stuck to his coat. Curious, the scientist takes a closer look under a microscope, and sees hundreds of "hooks" that latch onto things. But they also release without breaking. He uses this discovery to invent Velcro.
Japan is developing a high-speed train, but it has a major problem. The super velocity creates a vacuum in tunnels. This not only slows the train, but also emits a loud "sonic boom" when it exits. So a design engineer (who happens to be a bird watcher) studies the kingfisher. This speedy hunter sneaks up on his prey by entering water with very little splash. The scientist analyzes the bird's face and applies its beak design to the front of the "bullet" train. This not only eliminates the noise, but also improves speed and fuel efficiency.
- Scientists studying humpback whales notice how the bumps on its flippers prevent drag while the whale is diving at a steep angle. They adapt this design to wind turbine blades, which greatly improves efficiency. It also helps develop high-speed aircraft wings that are not as susceptible to stalling.
Every year, millions of birds fly into windows. This is not just upsetting to homeowners - it creates costly clean-up for owners of high rise buildings. Scientists studying the problem happen upon the common spider web. They inlay "invisible" lines into the glass. Unseen to human eyes, the embedded lines reflect ultraviolet light visible to birds, preventing accidents.
And The List Goes On...
Biomimicry is not just a "feel good" activity - it is a real discipline based on eons of awe-inspiring nature. The Biomimicry Institute, for example, is introducing its scientific curriculum to K-12, universities, and other educational institutions. Their goal is to create a new generation of innovators who use nature as a guide to invention. And commerce is paying attention. From agriculture to transportation, the movement is helping corporations design innovations that are both earth-friendly and profitable.
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