The booming field of biomimetics (imitating nature’s designs) is fascinating not only for the amazing products it promises, but for the fresh new opportunities it provides for science and engineering.  From viruses to mammals, everything in the living world is now being seen in a new light: agents of innovation that humans can learn from.  Here are just a few examples in recent news, arranged in order from large to small inspirational creatures.

Giraffe bone:  Science Daily’s report on “Bionic Manufacturing” happening now at the Fraunhofer Institute didn’t mention giraffes, but it did mention “long bones” as inspiration for new materials that are lightweight and strong. Giraffes have long bones, so they are an apt example of animals with “the perfected structures found in nature” that the scientists so wish to imitate.  “Whereas natural materials have evolved over numerous generations to reach the level of perfection we see today, engineers and product designers have to work much faster,” they said; so rather than working by a blind, unguided, aimless, purposeless process, they began with design requirements and computer models.  What can we expect from the design research into how nature achieved perfection?  Coming soon to a doctor near you: “medical orthopedic devices or anatomically formed body protectors such as lumbar support belts for skiers.”

Climbing plant:  Tarzan made good use of lianas – the long, woody, vine-like plants good for swinging from tree to tree.  Scientists at the University of Freiberg are finding inspiration for more sophisticated uses from them: self-healing materials, according to Science Daily.  Publishing in the Journal of Bionic Engineering, the “bionics experts” envision boats, tires, and air mattresses that can heal their own leaks.  How does the liana repair its lesions?  “When the lignified cells of the outer supportive tissues which give the plant its bending stiffness are damaged, the plant administers ‘first aid’ to the wound,” the article explained. “Parenchymal cells from the underlying base tissue expand suddenly and close the lesion from inside. Only in a later phase does the real healing process kick in and the original tissue grows back.”  Cool; how can we do that?

Circulatory system repair tech:  Animal circulatory systems inspired researchers at the University of Illinois to invent a different kind of self-healing material.  Prof. Nancy Sottos and team looked at how blood vessels subdivide down to tiny capillaries; this led them to work on “impregnation of plastics with a fine network of channels, each less than 100 millionths of a metre in diameter, that can be filled with liquid resins,” the BBC News reported.  “These ‘micro-vascular’ networks penetrate the material like an animal’s circulation system, supplying healing agent to all areas, ready to be released whenever and wherever a crack appears.”….

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