As subtle as a flying brick.

National Geographic on Biomimetics

velcroooo.jpgThis month’s National Geographic has a beautifully-written feature on
the state-of-the-art in biomimetics, the science and art of looking to
nature for design inspiration. The article is accompanied by
mind-blowing photographs, and fortunately the whole package is
available online, with video too. Seen here is an invention inspired by
the way burrs stuck to a dog’s fur… Velcro! From National Geographic:

A research fellow at the Natural History Museum in London
and at the University of Sydney, Parker is a leading proponent of
biomimetics–applying designs from nature to solve problems in
engineering, materials science, medicine, and other fields. He has
investigated iridescence in butterflies and beetles and antireflective
coatings in moth eyes–studies that have led to brighter screens for
cellular phones and an anticounterfeiting technique so secret he can’t
say which company is behind it. He is working with Procter & Gamble
and Yves Saint Laurent to make cosmetics that mimic the natural sheen
of diatoms, and with the British Ministry of Defense to emulate their
water-repellent properties. He even draws inspiration from nature’s
past: On the eye of a 45-million-year-old fly trapped in amber he saw
in a museum in Warsaw, Poland, he noticed microscopic corrugations that
reduced light reflection. They are now being built into solar panels.

Parker’s work is only a small part of an increasingly
vigorous, global biomimetics movement. Engineers in Bath, England, and
West Chester, Pennsylvania, are pondering the bumps on the leading
edges of humpback whale flukes to learn how to make airplane wings for
more agile flight. In Berlin, Germany, the fingerlike primary feathers
of raptors are inspiring engineers to develop wings that change shape
aloft to reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency. Architects in
Zimbabwe are studying how termites regulate temperature, humidity, and
airflow in their mounds in order to build more comfortable buildings,
while Japanese medical researchers are reducing the pain of an
injection by using hypodermic needles edged with tiny serrations, like
those on a mosquito’s proboscis, minimizing nerve stimulation.

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