Millions of years of evolution have shaped the world around us and created many incredible things. Biomimicry is when we observe a trait in nature and copy it or parts of it for human technology and design. There are numerous excellent examples of biomimicry in action.
Biomimicry concerns many sectors of human activity. Ranging from medicine to research, industry, economy, architecture, urban planning, agriculture, and management. This list is not exhaustive because bio-mimicry is, above all, a question of how we approach these areas of expertise. Therefore, it may apply more or less directly to all sectors.
The concept of biomimicry is based on a key idea: nature always operates on the principles of economy and efficiency while generating no waste. Remember Lavoir saying “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”? That’s the idea. No matter the field of application, the biomimetic philosophy is part of a global strategy of responsible and sustainable development that aims to balance the way the planet’s resources are used.
What is Biomimicry?
Biomimicry, (as the name implies, is the imitation of living things) aims to take inspiration from natural selection and solutions adopted by nature and translate the principles to human engineering. It is a method for creating solutions to human challenges by emulating designs and ideas found in nature. It’s used everywhere: in buildings, vehicles, and even materials.
Biomimicry as an approach is a beautiful journey into what we can learn from nature, and in the process,s we strengthen our relationship and connection to the natural world. This is a vital element of creating a more sustainable, healthier, and equitable world for all humans and all species. So we thought it’d be fun to round up a few of the most noteworthy examples.
10 Awesome Examples of Biomimicry for Kids and Scholars
Biomimicry, as stated, looks to nature and natural systems for inspiration, using nature-inspired strategies for improving the design. Through adaptation and evolution, the character spends millions of years tinkering its way out of problems, ending up with some mind-boggling innovations. Inefficiency doesn’t last alone, and human engineers and designers often look there for solutions to modern problems.
Here are some super cool examples of biomimicry in science, engineering, and innovation that were influenced by nature-inspired design for kids and scholars.
- Sharkskin mimicking for Swimsuit
- Bullet trains inspired by Kingfisher birds (Like the one in Disney)
- Wind turbines modeled after Humpback whales
- Beetles and self-filling water bottles
- An absorbing shock like a woodpecker
- Cephalopod camouflage
- Ventilation systems inspired by termites
- Birds Inspired Jets
- Burr and Velcro
- Butterfly wings and Solar energy
1. Sharkskin mimicking Swimsuit
Sharks are one of the greatest predators of the seas. While sharks are well known for their acute sense of smell and rapidly regenerating teeth, new research may point to the species’ skin as its most evolutionary niche asset.
Sharkskin is covered with countless overlapping scales known as “dermal denticles.” When in motion, these dermal denticles create a low-pressure zone. This leading edge vortex essentially “pulls” the shark forward and also helps to reduce drag. Needless to say, there are plenty of applications for such a design.
Scientists have replicated dermal denticles in swimsuits (which are now banned in major competitions) and the bottom of boats. Sharkskin-inspired swimsuits received a lot of media attention during the 2008 Summer Olympics when the spotlight was shining on Michael Phelps.
Speedo notoriously incorporated biomimetic sharkskin into a line of swimsuits for the 2008 Olympics. According to the Smithsonian, 98 percent of the medals at the 2008 Olympics were won by swimmers wearing sharkskin swimwear. Since then, technology has been banned from Olympic competitions.
Similarly, while many aquatic species are known to host other marine species on their bodies (such as barnacles), sharks remain relatively “clean,” so to speak. These microscopic dermal denticles also help sharks fend off microorganisms such as algae and barnacles. The United States Navy has since developed a material, known as Sharklet, based on this skin pattern to help inhibit marine growth on ships.
2. Bullet Trains inspired by Kingfisher birds (Like the one in Disney)
Kingfisher birds have specialized beaks that allow them to dive into the water to hunt while making a minimal splash. Utilizing this new nose, the next generation 500 series trains were 10 percent faster, consumed 15 percent less electricity, and, most importantly, had no more “boom.”
When Japanese engineers took on the daunting task of upgrading their high-speed bullet trains, their design hit one unfortunate snag. The problem wasn’t getting these trains up to the desired speeds, but rather the massive amount of noise created by the displacement of air ahead of the trains. As the trains entered tunnels, the vehicles often made a loud shock wave known as a “tunnel boom.”
The power of the shock waves even caused structural damage to several tunnels. To minimize this boom, Japanese engineers mimicked the Kingfisher bird beak which causes minimal splash as it enters the waters. Creating this new nose shape, the trains were 10 percent faster, consumed 15 percent less electricity, and, most importantly, no more “boom.”
This type of innovative process is called artificial photosynthesis, where a bionic leaf creates hydrogen fuel from the sunlight. This has hopes to be a potential global energy breakthrough by splitting water using electricity from the sun.
There are no emissions from this type of renewable fuel
3. Wind Turbines modeled after Humpback Whales
The humpback whale, for example, uses bumpy, tubercle fins for propulsion, which seems rather counterintuitive. These whales influenced new models of wind turbines.
Whales, known as the world’s biggest fish, have been swimming around the ocean for a long time, and evolution has crafted them into a super-efficient form of life. They can dive hundreds of feet below the surface and stay there for hours. They sustain their massive size by feeding on animals smaller than the eye can see, and they power their movement with über-efficient fins and a tail. These are made possible due to the presence of its humpback.
The ridges on the front fins of a humpback whale, called tubercles, influence how water flows over the fins. It creates aerodynamic flow in water. The tubercles allow them to swim at high speeds despite their great size.
Many of our modern aerodynamic designs rely on rather basic principles. To obtain optimal lift and minimal drag, sleek edges and clean lines are key. However, throughout the animal kingdom, many species, are capable of exceptional lift.
Scientists at Duke University, West Chester University, and the U.S. Naval Academy discovered that the bumps at the front edge of a whale fin greatly increase its efficiency, reducing drag by 32 percent and increasing lift by 8 percent. These adjusted blades also help generate the same amount of power at 10 miles per hour as conventional turbines generate at 17 miles per hour.
Companies are applying the idea to wind turbine blades, cooling fans, airplane wings, and propellers.
4. Beetles and Self-filling Water Bottles
It’s no secret at this juncture: access to water is pivotal to any sustainable civilization and life on this planet in general. While some locations on the globe have bountiful water resources such as lakes and rivers, more arid climates must make do with limited precipitation.
Technology derived from a beetle thriving in one of the harshest environments on Earth may very well help start the next generation of clean water harvesting.
Beetles (Stenocara beetles) native to the Namib Desert survive the dry and harsh environment by collecting water on their backs as a result of their unique shell design. They are also known as “master water collectors.” They aim their wings toward the ocean breeze, and the bumps on their backs funnel water droplets toward their mouths.
Engineers created a water bottle with similar water-collecting and water-repelling bumps. This project could help with water preservation efforts and make water more easily accessible for communities in dry regions.
Professionals in conservation or community planning professions may participate in multiple water conservation projects that involve this biomimicry engineering method. About 22 countries around the world use nets to collect water from the air, so such a boost in efficiency could have a big impact.
5. Absorbing shock like a Woodpecker
Woodpeckers are known for their exceptional excavating capacity. The creatures use their beaks to forage for insects and also to create nooks for themselves without sustaining head injuries from the fast and forceful pecking.
As woodpeckers bore these holes, they experience a deceleration of 1200 gravitational pulls (Gs) nearly 22 times per second. To put that in perspective, a severe car crash would deliver the equivalent of 120 Gs on a passenger.
Research conducted using CT scans at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that woodpeckers have four structures designed to absorb mechanical shock. The bird’s semi-elastic beak, an area of “spongy bone” material behind the skull, and cerebrospinal fluid all work in unison to extend the time over which this concussion occurs and therefore inhibit vibration.
Based on these structures, aerospace engineers often use these structures to design meteorite-resistant spacecraft and airplane black boxes that can absorb more force before malfunctioning. This natural design can also help aircraft and aeronautical engineers develop more quality technology in the future.
6. Cephalopod Camouflage
Squids, like all cephalopods, are capable of glowing (bioluminescence) as well as changing their skin color. This camouflage capacity makes them hide from predators, while the bioluminescence allows them to communicate with and/or attract a mate. This complex behavior is produced by a network of specialized skin cells and muscles.
Researchers at the University of Houston built a similar device capable of detecting its surroundings and matching them in mere seconds. This early prototype uses a flexible, pixilated grid utilizing actuators, light sensors, and reflectors. As the light sensors detect a change in the surroundings, a signal is sent to the corresponding diode.
This creates heat in the area and the thermo-chromatic grid then changes color. This man-made “skin” could have both military and commercial applications down the road.
7. Ventilation Systems inspired by Termites
Termites often get a bad rap because of their destructive properties. However, termites are infamous for creating some of the most elaborate ventilation systems for cooling on the planet. Even in some of the hottest places, these termite mounds, remain exceptionally cool inside. While the temperature outside swings wildly throughout the day from low to high temperature, the inside of a termite den holds steady at a comfortable temperature.
Using an intricate network of intentional air pockets, the mounds create a natural ventilation system using convection. This is an example of how construction and architectural professionals can use natural elements and sustainable materials to enhance the safety and quality of a building project in hot climates.
For example, the East Gate Shopping Center in Harare, Zimbabwe, which is 333,000 square feet high, uses 90 percent less energy to heat and cool than traditional buildings, has large chimneys that naturally draw in cool air at night to lower the temperature of the floor slabs, just like termite dens.
8. Birds-Inspired Jets
Birds can boost the distance of their flight by more than 70 percent with the use of the V-shape. Scientists have discovered that when a flock takes on the familiar V-formation when one bird flaps its wings, it creates a small updraft that lifts the bird behind.
As each bird passes, they add their energy to the stroke, helping all the birds maintain flight. By rotating their order through the stack, they spread out the exertion.
A group of researchers at Stanford University think passenger airlines could realize fuel savings by taking the same tactic. The team, led by Professor Ilan Kroo, envisions scenarios where jets from West Coast airports meet up and fly in formation en route to their East Coast destinations.
By traveling in a V-shape with planes taking turns in front as birds do, Kroo and his researchers think aircraft could use 15 percent less fuel compared to flying solo.
9. Burr and Velcro
Velcro is a widely known example of biomimicry. You may have worn shoes with velcro straps as a youngster, and you can certainly look forward to wearing the same kind of shoes in retirement.
Velcro was invented by Swiss engineer George de Mestral in 1941 after he removed burrs from his dog and 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, the world wouldn’t know Velcro jumping a sport in which people dressed in full suits of Velcro attempt to throw their bodies as high up on a wall as possible.
10. Butterfly Wings and Solar Energy
The “common rose” butterfly heats its body by absorbing sunlight with its wings. By studying its wings under an electron microscope, researchers discovered holes in their bodies that dispersed the sunlight and kept them warm.
With this mechanism, researchers created a thin silicon film that resembled a 3D model of the butterfly’s wing and applied it to a solar energy cell, improving its design overall. This new energy cell could often absorb more sunlight under lower light conditions. By using this technology in a solar industry position, engineers can help communities and local businesses increase their sustainable energy usage.
I have hopes that as scientists look more into the natural world to answer human questions, they begin to see, more and more, that the severely erroneous idea of evolution is impossible. Now it’s your turn to create an innovation based on something found in nature! Be as creative as you want and, with your parent’s permission
- Top 10 Eco-Friendly Swimwear Manufacturers
- 8 Affordable Eco-Friendly Gifts for Him
- How Homes Can Be Eco-Friendly Despite The Modern Aesthetic
- 5 Ways to Have an Eco-Friendly Business
- Top 10 Effects of Melting Glaciers on the Environment
Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.