Home & Design

Mar 1, 2017

BIOMIMETICS - THE SCIENCE OF IMITATION

Biomimetics can be illustrated by many examples, not only in state-of-the-art technology, but also in everyday objects. Nowadays Biomimetics is part of design, physics, chemistry, various engineering or medicine. There are even those who say that it is a new revolution that will mitigate the effect of man on nature. Consulting offices are emerging and being requested by major manufacturers all around the world.

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This article you are about to read is about Biomimetics.

- Bio... what?

- ... mimetics. Biomimetics The term was first created and used in the 1950s by an American biophysicist named Otto Schmidtt during the research for his PhD, and literally means imitation of life. It results from the junction of two Greek words: Bios, life, and Mimésis, imitation or mimicry.

At first it seems like a kind of esoteric science or something very complex, but it is not. On the contrary, it is much simpler and more intuitive than it seems. Which doesn't mean it's not fascinating. The idea that science is antagonistic to nature, though very common, is wrong. It derives from a recent time dubbed modernity and was based on the notion that technological development would free us from natural constraints. Yet nature has always been implicit in science. And we can easily find several examples of it, all through history. For example, To Aristotle is attributed the assertion that technology imitates nature and, later, in the 15th century, we can find in Leonardo Da Vinci's drawings and writings several inspirations taken from the wings and flight of birds and bats to their flying machines.

If we consider that observation is a fundamental step in any scientific investigation, we easily realize that this observation would inevitably result in natural solutions to technological problems, whether in the field of physics, chemistry, or medicine. But one thing is technological solutions inspired by nature, another thing is make it a branch of science, as is the case. Although the imitation of natural solutions to technological problems could already be found in several situations, as described previously, only very recently have Biomimetics or Bionics (another identical branch) begun to "appear". This is because evolution is essential for both science and Biomimetics itself.

As in evolution, in science from the creation of a concept to the formation of a discipline, time is needed for "natural" tests of resistance to criticism. In addition to this, it is very common for a particular scientific process to begin to be noticed only when its studies and knowledge begin to result in practical applications, that is, marketable and financeable.

This is precisely what happened with Biomimetics. From concept to method and from method to discipline with results applied to technology, more than fifty years have passed. And today is part of the curriculum of the famous MIT.

But evolution has another special value in this area. The solutions that nature conceived were those that, among several hypotheses, survived and resisted to the passing of time, perfecting itself with each challenge and selection.

From the wings of butterflies to TV screens

The search for solutions in nature has been generally focused on form, studied and applied by physics, engineering and design. But recently also the chemical part, or the micro world, has entered this game. The solutions found have mainly resulted in products that are much less environmentally harmful and have greater energy efficiency. And that's also positive ecologically.

The most common example of application of Biomimetics is the history of Velcro. Invented and patented by engineer Georges de Mestral in 1955. The idea came to him when he was removing thistles from his clothes and from the fur of his dog, after another of the walks that he made by the field.

A more recent example is the swim suit, Speedo LZR, of Olympic champion Michael Phelps. This suit is not only made with polyurethane, a material with greater buoyancy, as it is covered by a layer that has a shark skin-inspired feature.

George Lauder, who is one of the scientists who has been studying and experimenting with this type of technology, says it is possible to reduce friction in water and increase speed by about 6.6% and reducing energy consumption by about 6 %. All in all, it already gives a considerable gain, at least to hit world records.

Other examples can be found in the study of spider webs for the production of cables more resistant than steel, or in the lotus leaves that have a hydrophobic layer that prevents the drops of water adherence, making them rolling and taking with them the impurities. Or even in Mark Miles's study of the color of butterflies' wings, which is not given by pigment but rather by the position of tiny plates that refract the different wavelengths of light. This project is already being applied for the production of new types of screen.

Moths, Airbus and Top Secrets

One of the most obvious areas of application is aviation, which was mentioned earlier when talking about Leonardo Da Vinci. Four centuries later, the Wright brothers were also inspired by the curvature and inclination of the wing of birds to create what is considered the first airplane. And the proof that Biomimetics is so important in aviation today is the incorporation of Biomimetics into the Airbus engineering department and into all its projects, which have been generating technological solutions not only for greater profitability but, more importantly, ecological sustainability.

If you have already flown by the wing window, you will have noticed that from a certain point the wing tips begin to appear folded upwards. This is due to the observation of the wings and flight of the great eagles and eliminates an effect called vortex that reduces the support of the airplane in flight, and increases the consumption of fuel.

One could not end without mentioning two other existing applications.

The first involves studying the eyes of the moths, which do not reflect light. What turned out to not only give brighter mobile screens as well as military applications for night vision and a secret technology on counterfeit detection, which is presumed to be being applied in cash. The second involves the study of quadruped motions which is being applied to robots locomotion.

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