The heart of Biomimicry is about “imitating nature”. It’s about discovering a whole new way of valuing the natural world and finding that nature has been doing everything we have ever desired to do – build, design, manufacture, waterproof, harness energy – you name it, without ever having guzzled fossil fuel, polluted the planet or jeopardized its future.
Throughout time mankind has learned how to do many things by observing nature. Now there is a realization that through the medium of biomimicry, nature can teach us to find innovative and sustainable ways of living and taking care of our health.
Just think of an indigenous forest and how all the myriad of organisms live and work together, cooperating to ensure the health of the system and thereby the long-term survival of all. How does a tree, for example, pump water from the basement to the penthouse? How does a spider spin a silk web that is essentially five times stronger than steel and three times more flexible? And using life-friendly chemistry because it can’t be toxic if it produces it from its own body!
Imagine if our human society could function like that. Imagine a town where the concept of waste doesn’t exist, where we draw our energy from the sun, where efficiency is built into the design, where cooperation, self-reliance, promoting of diversity and keeping it local ensure meaningful prosperity for all, where businesses operate benignly, actually helping to restore the environment in which they operate and where the ability to respond and adapt to change is second nature.
Examples of biomimicry
- By observing that kingfishers dive vertically and at speed from the air into water with barely a ripple, the shape of the nose cone on the Japanese bullet train was modeled on a kingfisher’s beak. The aerodynamics of a newly designed nose cone made for a much quieter ride and stopped the train emitting the sonic boom when emerging from tunnels.
- The study of a special cone adaptation in the nostrils of the Peregrine falcon enabled the redesign of the air inlet of a fighter jet engine that prevents the engine stalling at high speed when in a dive.
- Using the technique of biomimicry, a model of the skull and beak design of a woodpecker was copied to develop a more effective icepick.
- Modern desalination plants use a technique adapted from the nasal glands of seabirds.
- The structure of the Lala palm fronds enables them to break the power of the wind rather than resisting it.
- Studies of butterfly wings revealed that the brilliant and varied colours are caused by a clever blend of pigmentation and light dispersal. Through biomimicry engineers are using these ideas, evolved by nature over millions of years, to design new types of materials, such as textiles, cosmetics, paints and glazing, with a powerful control of colours, adding eye-catching shimmer to many modern products.
- Plastics are one of the most harmful manmade products using over 300 different polymers (most of which are toxic in some way and dangerous to animal life in others) whilst nature uses only five. Studies conducted on a polymer, chitin, found in the shells of sea creatures like crabs, prawns and lobsters have mimicked it to produce a low cost and light-weight plastic of a biodegradable aluminium alloy.
So by looking at nature differently, we can let ourselves tap into the 3,8 billion years of research and development that has informed nature’s patterns, processes and system strategies.
Sue Swain -Knysna Tourism AGM 2010; Lakes Bird Club presentation, July 2010; Garden Route Initiative presentation, October 2013