We shall be looking at Biomimicry and how learning from nature can help us to create innovative and sustainable solutions to the challenges we encounter in our lives.

This may be the first time many of you are hearing the word Biomimicry, Bio - meaning life; mimicry - to imitate. Biomimicry is a process of observing how nature has solved a problem that you may be encountering in life and then by applying the lessons learned from nature to your real life problem.

For instance, think of yourself as head designer of Nike and you are responsible for making the athletic suits for some of the world’s fastest athletes. You need to design a suit that will reduce drag (the aerodynamic force that opposes motion through the air). 

Firstly, you need to define the real life problem. The second step will be to observe some of the fastest animals on land, air and in the sea and see how they have adapted to and what features/structures these organisms have produced in order to move faster! Is it the position of their body hairs? Is it the colour of their coats? Is it the shape of their wings and fins? You then document your findings; build a prototype and test your prototype to see if the results are as expected.

Today we shall explore three common examples of biomimicry and reveal to you how science and technology have, and continue to, revolutionise our lives.

In the first example, we shall look at Velcro.  That material most commonly found on kids shoes, bags and lunch kits. Velcro was invented by Swiss engineer George de Mestral who went on a hunting trip with his dog in 1941. The dog was covered in the burrs of the Burdock plant (similar to our local cashee). After he removed  the burrs from his dog, he decided to take a closer look at how they worked. The small hooks found at the end of the burr needles inspired him to create the now ubiquitous Velcro. Think about it: without this material, toddlers all over will be one step less towards gaining independence from mom and dad!

Today it is probably the best known and commercially successful case of biomimicry.

The lotus flower is sort of like the sharkskin of dry land. The flower's micro-rough surface naturally repels dust and dirt particles, keeping its petals sparkling clean. If you've ever look at a lotus leaf under a microscope, you will see many tiny, nail-like protuberances that can fend off specks of dust. When water rolls over a lotus leaf, it collects impurities on the surface, leaving a clean and healthy leaf behind.

A German company, Ispo, spent four years researching this phenomenon and has developed a paint with similar properties. The micro-rough surface of the paint pushes away dust and dirt, diminishing the need to wash the outside of buildings. 

Finally Geckos, a type of lizard, are born with the mythical ability to scale smooth walls and scamper upside-down across ceilings. The source of their grip is millions of microscopic hairs on the bottom of their toes. Each hair's attraction is minuscule, but the net effect is powerful.

Scientists estimate that the setae (hair like structure) from the tiny toes of a single gecko could theoretically carry 250 pounds. The real trick is that by changing the direction of the setae, the grip is instantly broken: no sticky residues, no tearing, no pressure necessary.

A team of University of Massachusetts, Amherst, researchers has developed geckskin, an adhesive so strong that an index-card-size strip can hold up to 700 pounds. A form of gecko tape could replace sutures and staples in the hospital; and the ability to don a pair of gecko-tape gloves and scale walls like Spiderman may not be far off!

Biomimicry therefore seeks to create solutions by imitating the natural environment - imitating life!  Animals, plants and microbes are the consummate engineer. These organisms have solved many of the problems society is now grappling with and have devised solutions using only the resources available to them in their environment. In essence they have given us the secrets to survival and created a sustainable ecosystem.

Source:  Science & Technology Unit

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Mr. Edmond Jackson
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