Your body contains a lot of things engineers would like to copy, and not just at the scale of C3P0-like humanoid robots.
Pore over this: Your cell membranes have pores that let good things pass through but block the rest. One of the most important is the ion channel, responsible for passing electrical signals in the nervous system. The extreme selectivity of these pores, some of which can pass potassium ions but block sodium ions, is desirable to chemical engineers, but difficult to achieve in synthetic materials. “Inspired by nature,” a press release from the University at Buffalo began, “an international research team has created synthetic pores that mimic the activity of cellular ion channels, which play a vital role in human health by severely restricting the types of materials allowed to enter cells.” The team’s synthetic pores are pretty crude by cellular standards. They are just stacks of nanotube rings at this stage; achieving high selectivity is a future goal. But the lead researcher is hopeful: “The idea for this research originated from the biological world, from our hope to mimic biological structures, and we were thrilled by the results.”
Home sweet homeostasis: The body’s ability to maintain stability in a dynamic world (homeostasis) requires control and regulation at many levels. Wouldn’t it be nice if chemists could do something like that in the lab? A Harvard team publishing in Nature thought so:
Living organisms have unique homeostatic abilities, maintaining tight control of their local environment through interconversions of chemical and mechanical energy and self-regulating feedback loops organized hierarchically across many length scales. In contrast, most synthetic materials are incapable of continuous self-monitoring and self-regulating behaviour owing to their limited single-directional chemomechanical or mechanochemical modes. Applying the concept of homeostasis to the design of autonomous materials would have substantial impacts in areas ranging from medical implants that help stabilize bodily functions to ‘smart’ materials that regulate energy usage. (from the abstract of Ximin He et al, “Synthetic homeostatic materials with chemo-mechano-chemical self-regulation,” Nature 487, 12 July 2012, pp. 214–218, doi:10.1038/nature11223)….
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