An example of some of the ways nature is helping formulate innovative design to tackle the big issues in society today of energy production, coastal protection and much more…
We are currently at a stand off point with nature, producing too much waste and not creating enough resources to sustain a growing population. Instead of fighting against the natural system, for years now individuals have been using its lessons and examples to create sustainable solutions to these problems in a process called biomimicry. Coined by Janine Benyus in the 1990s, biomimicry seeks a sustainable solution to human challenges by emulating natures time tested patterns and strategies. Nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling today and those failures are given in fossils highlighting the secrets to survival. Animals, plants and microbes are the engineers and in their world there is no waste, everything is nutrient and feedstock, a concept we have yet to formulate for ourselves.
Ever since the creation of the airplane as a result of studying birds in flight, we have been learning from nature, here are some examples of what has been achieved in biomimicry design…
Dolphins are notorious for being one of the most intelligent mammals on Earth and this is largely down to their social lifestyle and ingenious communication system. Dolphins are able to recognise calls of other dolphins which are 25 km away using a system called echolocation. They do this by using many different frequencies within one transmission to allow a message to be clearly heard by others. Scientists studying coastal protection in the wake of the 2004 Boxing day Tsunami turned to dolphins in search of a way to provide early detection systems. Wave sensors are placed underwater that collect data about wave height and energy, if a big wave is detected the message has to travel quickly over long distances through the medium of water, a great challenge. However once they managed to replicate and channel the frequencies used by dolphins they were able to create an efficient sound that transmits to satellites and allows an alarm to be set off potentially saving thousands in future tsunamis.
In 1996 architect Mick Pearce was commissioned to design a large shopping mall, the Eastgate Centre for Zimbabwe that could combat the hot, humid climate without vast energy costs. For inspiration he turned to the African landscape around him and gained insight by studying the plentiful termite mounds. These mounds don’t look like much but are in fact an example of impeccable natural design with the ability to maintain a constant temperature and humidity despite the continual variation in conditions outside. They do this through the use of chimneys and tunnels that create a cooling effect. As a result, Pearce introduced many chimneys to his design that naturally draw in cool air at night and lower the temperatures of floor slabs just like termite dens. During the day these slabs remaine chilled and reduce the need for air-conditioning leading to a centre that uses 90% less energy than a conventional building of its size.
Humpback whales can be up to 50 ft long and over 36,000 kg and yet they are able to swim in tight circles and turn efficiently to circle prey. The cause of this skill is tubercles, irregular bumps found along the edge of their flippers that allow them to grip the water but still glide in a smooth, continual motion. The tubercles also change the distribution of pressure on the flipper so some parts stall before others and at different angles of attack making abrupt stalling easy to avoid. Engineers at WhalePower took this natural framework and used it to create efficient wind turbines. Prototypes showed that delaying the stalling doubles the performance of wind turbines at speeds of 17 miles per hour allowing more wind energy to be captured at lower speeds due to the channeled airflow.
Mosquito bites may itch, but the actual process of the bite is almost painless and this is due to the etched surface of a mosquito’s proboscis. By not having a smooth outer surface, the mosquito feeding apparatus comes in contact with the skin over fewer points and the smaller the area the less pain felt. Japanese micro engineers have used this knowledge to create a needle 1 millimeter long and with a diameter of 0.1 millimeters. Unlike hypodermic needles used today which are cylindrical and come in contact with a large surface area causing pain, this micro-needle is made of etched slices of silicon dioxide giving a jagged shape. It also vibrates to ease into skin tissue in a similar way to the mosquito, with the view of reducing the discomfort of the patient.
At Green-Books.org it is our mission to educate Indonesian children on the natural systems that make life on earth possible and inspire them to live sustainably. It is important to us that kids are inspired by nature and understand how important it is to their everyday lives so they are passionate about conserving it. Help us achieve our goal by sharing online and making a donation here.
Author: Holly McElroy