A tree frog’s powerful grip inspires safer tire treads. A butterfly’s vibrant wings encourage improved electronic displays. A mosquito’s piercing mouth is the blueprint for a painless needle. More and more, some of the world’s best scientists know that studying God’s original designs can lead to amazing discoveries.
Biomimicry—also called biomimetics—is the science of imitating living things in order to solve problems. From the beginning, God called all of His creation good. (Genesis 1:31) From tiny cells to giant whales, God’s handiwork exhibits perfect form and function.
Engineers, scientists, and inventors have long looked to creation for inspiration. Folks at the Biomimicry Institute say they seek answers “by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.”
Many people don’t acknowledge God as Creator. Still, they seek solutions in His natural world.
Orville and Wilbur Wright observed pigeons in flight while working on the first airplane. Researcher Otto Schmitt studied squid nerves. He went on to pioneer inventions in electrical circuits. Eiji Nakatsu modeled the nose of Japan’s high-speed train after the beak of the kingfisher bird.
The list of scientific advances made through biomimicry goes on. Studies of shark skin transformed swim fabrics. The stick-to-itiveness of marine mussels influenced underwater glue. Cheerful sunflowers guided the design of solar panels that follow the sun across the sky.
UNDER THE WATER
Marine animals do things well that the U.S. Navy wants its marine vehicles to do well—like propelling themselves through water and staying still in strong currents.
Scientists at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center are studying a variety of sea creatures. They want to borrow the animals’ best features. Researchers are even trying to figure out how a sensor could float like a jellyfish.
Now the U.S. Navy is enlisting the help of seals—not the highly trained special ops kind but the frolic-in-the-ocean kind.
Christin Murphy and Joy Lapseritis study seal whiskers. The hairs are sensitive to underwater touch. It’s not obvious at first glance, but the long hairs are irregular and bumpy—like bulging pea pods. Scientists believe these bulges help reduce the vibrations made as a seal moves through water. The whiskers also seem to increase the seal’s sensitivity to other water disturbances.
When a fish swims by, a seal’s whiskers sense the wake. Through their whiskers, seals can tell features of fish, such as shape and size. They can track location even in dark or murky water.
Despite the adorable possibilities, scientists probably won’t outfit ocean vehicles with whiskers. Instead, they hope to reverse-engineer—take apart and duplicate—the seals’ unique tracking system.
Don’t worry. The researchers don’t pluck hairs from live seals. Instead, they collect whiskers from distressed or deceased seals. They have run hundreds of trials with different whiskers and species. They’ve even created a whisker with a 3-D printer.
Murphy and Lapseritis think lessons learned from seals may aid military vehicles’ underwater movements.
INTO THE AIR
Scientists are also employing biomimicry above the Earth. Researchers at Caltech are hanging out with bats—or at least observing them closely.
Bats are extremely complex. In order to fly, each one uses more than 40 joints as well as flexible wing membranes.
California Institute of Technology aerospace researcher Soon-Jo Chung designed a robotic bat. He calls his invention Bat Bot or B2. It uses onboard electronics to mimic the flying, swerving, and diving of the real animal—with only nine joints. B2 also has stretchy, silicon-based fiber wings.
Interestingly, B2 does more than look supercool. Its bat-inspired soft wings are quieter and safer than rotor-powered drones. Some day, B2 may be ready for real-world uses such as monitoring disaster areas or surveying construction sites.
ON THE GROUND
When you think of termites, you probably think of munching destroyers, not clever, cutting-edge designers. But engineers in Africa studied the strange insects’ ability to maintain an almost constant body temperature—whatever their environment.
Scientists scanned termite mounds. They made 3-D images of the structures. They found that termite mounds store heat during the day and vent it at night—a natural heating and cooling system.
The Eastgate Centre is a shopping and office complex in Harare, Zimbabwe. Eastgate has a climate control system inspired by the structure of termite mounds—including chimneys that funnel warm air out and vents that draw cool air in. As a result, Eastgate stays at a fairly constant temperature. It uses only about 10 percent of the energy that a normally air-conditioned building would.
Creation abounds with the complex, beautiful, and practical. The mind of an all-wise Creator designed each cell of every flower, insect, and bird. And man, made in God’s image, can benefit from studying the originals.
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” — Ecclesiastes 1:9