Biological solutions to physical challenges are inspiring new technologies.

A fuel and its money are soon partners:  A “scientific breakthrough” reported on PhysOrg is promising the possibility to store sunlight in chemical energy, the way plants do it with photosynthesis.  “Nature inspires research to convert solar into liquid fuel” is the headline.

Fish skin diodes:  In a short piece in the category “Biomaterials,” Nature News explained why silvery fish have such bright skin, then turned the findings into an app.  Three species of fish seem to have “found a way around a law of physics” that dictates that reflections from scales should be polarized.  “The skin contains a mixture of two types of guanine crystal with different optical properties — when the two are present in a specific ratio, this mixture prevents polarization and maintains high reflectivity,” the article said, adding, “the principles at work in these fish could have applications in optical devices such as light-emitting diodes” (LED’s).

Smart as a bird:  Birds are exceptionally good at avoiding obstacles as they fly.  Imagine building a robot that can do that.  Cornell researchers are trying; they have a prototype flying robot that is claimed to be “smart as a bird,” according to PhysOrg.  Although flying robots are common, the engineers were tackling “the hard part: how to keep the vehicle from slamming into walls and tree branches.”  It’s scoring pretty good in the hits and misses game but having some trouble in wind.  As they improve their bird mimicking, they might come up with a device with “tremendous value in search-and-rescue operations.

Wood you believe:  “Using the legendary properties of heartwood from the black locust tree as their inspiration, scientists have discovered a way to improve the performance of softwoods widely used in construction.”  Thus begins an article on PhysOrg titled, “Inspiration from Mother Nature leads to improved wood.”  It’s not that wood is faulty for trees, but in construction, builders would like to prevent moisture absorption and warping.  The article says, “wood’s position as a mainstay building material over the centuries results from a combination of desirable factors, including surprising strength for a material so light in weight.”  Since the black locust waterproofs its sapwood with flavonoids, turning it into rot-resisting heartwood, “The scientists used this process as an inspiration for trying an improved softwood” like spruce to make it more stable….

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