I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning.– Steve Jobs
In order to solve complex human problems and challenges, trail-blazing biomimetic scientists are going back to the nature’s blueprints to bring us a new generation of sustainable solutions. The variety and ingenuity of the results are as startling as they are surprising.
Living organisms are well-adapted, repeatedly improved structures and materials that over the course of the earth’s history have evolved alongside natural selection; these solutions can therefore be viewed as the continued refinement and enhancement of optimum performance targets, a kind of organic R&D team.
In this article, the @ News editorial team uncovers how some of the most cutting-edge designers, innovators and scientists are harnessing natural solutions through the lessons in nature to bring about sustainable future solutions. So what is biomimicry?
Looking to nature for inspiration for answers to modern problems is a process that has been enacted since the birth of innovation. Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by cherry-picking and emulating natures time-tested patterns and strategies at macro and nanoscales.
Nature has progressed in a competitive framework and solved man-made engineering problems across a range of innovations such as the ability to self-heal, develop a tolerance and resistance to environmental exposure, hydrophobicity, self-assembly, harnessing solar energy and a multitude of further innovative natural solutions.
All of these qualities can be seen as attractive components to a successful sustainable innovation. Scientists are repurposing nature’s innovative blue-prints, already proved in their viability to solve the problems of modern day living.
Animals, plants and microbes can be understood as consummate engineers whose work can be viewed across the canvas of the natural world. After billions of years of research and development by these natural engineers their successes are all around us and the failed prototypes can be found in fossils and extinctions.
A sustainable world, nature’s blueprints in action.
When approaching a design problem, look to nature first. This has been the root of inspiration for a generation of innovators, inventors and scientists. These natural designs can be used in an unlimited range of solution objectives such as the ability to be waterproof, aerodynamic, solar-powered or thermal.
One the most famous examples of biomimicry in action would be the reinvention of plant-based burrs into the hugely popular Velcro product.
Swiss engineer George de Mestral in 1941 conceived of the idea to imitate the natural properties of burrs when removing them from the coat of his dog. Mestral decided to take a closer look at how the burrs worked so effectively to cling to passing objects.
The small hooks found at the end of the burr needles inspired him to create the now ubiquitous Velcro.
If you really stop and consider a world without this material the implications of this discovery become apparent from ties and straps, industrial heavy duty fasteners, fashion and a range of other indispensable practical applications.
More impressive examples of biomimicry in action can be found in the work of the Biomimicry Institute such as learning from the humpback whale how to create efficient windpower, how termites create sustainable buildings, how kingfishers break through boundaries, how prairies grow food in resilient ways, how mosquitos use a honed, less intrusive needle technique or how dolphins use advanced signalling and communications under water.
One of the chief thinkers in unlocking the potential of biomimicry in sustainable innovation is Janine Benyus, co-founder of Biomimicry 3.8 & the Biomimicry Institute. Benyus explains the importance of biomimicry in sustainable innovation:
When we look at what is truly sustainable, the only real model that has worked over long periods of time is the natural world.
In the TEDTalks video below, Benyus reveals the dozens of new products that take their cue from nature, often with surprising and spectacular results.
Video courtesy of TEDTalks, Janine Benyus: ‘Biomimicry in action’
The future use of biomimicry for businesses in increasingly unsustainable global value-chains is clear – To create products, policies and processes that can be sustained in long-term production markets.
As the move towards bio-based solutions quickens in pace, the need for new ways of living that are already adaptable with nature is vital to a sustainable future for people and planet alike. In this way, biomimicry is not just about uncovering and imitating the genius of nature but also ensuring global sustainability objectives for a greener future.
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