By: Sanjana Vadapalli
December 17, 1903, was the day that Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first-ever plane. This plane was created using something that would soon be called biomimicry, the use of nature to solve challenges that have faced scientists over time. This means that a certain aspect of an animal is utilized in common-day technology. For example, the Wright Brothers recognized the special ability of birds to fly; using their tendency to create a low pressure when lifting their wings, the Brothers created an object that allowed people to fly: the airplane. Over time, many other inventions used biomimicry as well, starting way back in 6000 B.C.E., and continuing up to present day.
In the 1950s, an inventor and biophysicist named Otto Schmitt came up with the word biomimetics. Later, in 1997, Jenine Benyus improved this word and coined it biomimicry, writing a book called Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Jenine said, “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 a TED talk, she explains that humans have forgotten that they aren’t the first ones to do many innovative things, such as creating waterproof items and providing shelter for young. To add on, she says biomimicry is not using the animals, but using the animals’ blueprints for a certain recipe. As a result, she believes that biomimicry should not only be acknowledged, but also used in order to solve problems and create better, more efficient solutions.
One example of an amazing discovery, courtesy of mother nature, is the Evologics underwater sensor. This technology comes from the only water mammals known to man, dolphins! Dolphins have the ability to communicate with each other over very long distances; they can talk to each other across a very broad frequency bandwidth. This device can not only help convey information but also block out other echoes and noises. Before this underwater sensor, the hydroacoustic conditions were poor, and many interferences occurred when information was collected. The dolphins’ ability to communicate through sound waves gave birth to this Evologics underwater sensor.
Another mind-blowing invention inspired by the wonders of the earth is the Japanese Bullet Train. This technology was inspired by an aviatory animal, the kingfisher bird, which can dive into water without making a splash. Their beaks are able to slide through the water and reduce impact during the dive due to their pointy tips. If they make a splash, the birds alert their prey, allowing their prey a chance to slip away. Using kingfisher technology, the bullet train, which was a fast but noisy way to commute, became faster, quieter, and had 30% less air resistance, allowing less disturbance to wildlife, passengers, and natives. The kingfisher’s unique beak shape led to the invention of the new and improved bullet train.
A third invention that mother nature devised is antimicrobial film, which mimics shark skin. Some refer to the shark as the king of the sea, a beast that is praised for its deadly teeth and sharp sense of smell, attributes that help it pursue its prey. Recently, however, research suggests that shark skin is just as important as these other features. The sharks’ skin is covered with dermal denticles that act like flexible rows of small teeth, producing a low-pressure area that makes it easier for the shark to move forward under water. In addition, these dermal denticles also keep the shark clean, fending off any micro organisms that try to attach themselves. The biomimetic shark skin is used for swimwear, permitting the wearer of the clothes to move smoother in water, much like the shark. The swimwear will also stay relatively clean due to the shark skin pattern. Similar to the previous discoveries listed, the shark skin technology led to the innovation of modern-day devices, such as the revolutionary antimicrobial film.
Nature has many secrets that one needs to recognize, explore, and take advantage of. The Evologics underwater sensor, the Japanese bullet train, and the antimicrobial film are all examples of humankind using “nature’s blueprints” to solve challenges. Biomimicking can revolutionize a lot of other technology that humans have given up on. Janine Benyus—speaker, innovator, and biologist—was one person that decided to spread knowledge about the wonders of the natural world. All of us can follow in her footsteps. Like she says, “The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.” So the next time you watch a bird fly overhead, remember that you are watching the makings of an airplane.