[This was written by Fran Siebrits and published online by Wild Magazine http://www.wildcard.co.za/, 2012]

Not only is nature fashionable in the variety of beauty it displays, but it is the leader in engineering and design too.
Biomimetics is the application of designs from nature to the fields of science, medicine and engineering, to name but a few. Nature has an endless amount of ideas and tools which humans would not otherwise have considered. Simple strategies and materials are enough to create the most highly complex and intricate designs.  
The research into biomimics is flourishing with the introduction of technology such as the electron- and atomic-force microscopes, high-speed computers and 3D X-ray modelling. Here are a few examples of how nature’s fabulous designs have inspired scientists to mimic them.

  • Brighter cell-phone screens are the result of studies on the anti-reflective layers in the eyes of moths as well as a closer look at butterflies and beetles.
  • The bionic concept car by leading manufacturer Mercedes Benz mimics the streamline boxfish. The hexagonal structure of the fish’s skin was copied, producing a stronger and more rigid car which is so aerodynamic that the low drag makes it more fuel efficient and faster.
  • Velcro was designed after studying how hair and other materials stick to burrs. It hooks easily and releases with a slight tug.
  • The efficient turbine blades used in producing wind power are a result of mimicking the flippers of humpback whales. These nodule-clad blades produce more power at lower speeds and create less noise.
  • Water-repellent substances such as paint were designed after studying the lotus leaf. These plants have a self-cleansing waxy surface that does not hold water.
  • Streamlined swimming gear so paramount to professional swimmers mimics the skin of a shark. Tooth-like scales on the shark called dermal denticles give it less drag and greater speed.

One only has to look at the intricacies of a spider web to realise the complexity of seemingly simple contraptions in nature. Webs are made from seven different kinds of silk, each with their specific set of complicated proteins, all woven by 600 spinning nozzles into a precise pattern.

As advanced as the human race has become, there is still a long way to go before we will be anywhere close to the grand mastery of nature. For now we only attempt to mimic that which is in our capacity.

The Red Bulletin, p:30-41, September 2011, Red Bulletin