It was 1948, George was out walking his dog through the Swiss Alpines, when he was attacked by nature’s nemeses, the cocklebur. As he plucked these annoying structures off his clothes, inspiration flashed across his mind, inspiration from the common, annoying bur.
Along with his friend, he created what he called “locking tape”, but that name never stuck. We known it as … Velcro.
You see, biology hides amazing structures, materials and chemicals. They are energy efficient designs, biodegradable materials and chemicals that heal and protect. In addition, biomaterials are manufactured at body temperature! Compare that to our manufacturing practices – high temperature.
These master designed biomaterials are stupendous. We, as intellectual humans, have spent millennia engineering. We have been perfecting the manufacturing art and amassing our knowledge of technology and materials. However, nature’s structures and systems are superior to ours. There abides brilliant designs, fine tuned “technology”, systems that outperform ours. In the quest to solve real world problems, organisms harbor superior information infused systems. In fact, some engineers make it their business to mimic these super designs. We call this biomimicry.
Termites and Temperature control
Consider, if you would, our temperature controlled buildings. Our houses, office spaces and industrial complexes use lots of energy. Is there a design in nature that is somewhat more efficient than ours?
Travel with me to south Africa, and check out the termite mounds that stud the region. Some of these reach the height of 10 feet. These structures are impressive, they have intrinsic temperature controlled systems. These termites “farm” a fungus for food which grow best at exactly 87 degrees Fahrenheit. But listen to this, the ambient temperature ranges from 35 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit! A circulatory system of cooling vents are opened and closed for temperature control. Plus these networks keep the mounds at perfect moisture and oxygen levels.
Can we learn something from these? Designers, using the principles of termite mound ventilation, designed an 18-story shopping complex. Mechanical air conditioning and heating are absent, yet this building remains comfortable. Using its ventilation network, breezes pull fresh air through the building. This building is uses just 10 percent of a traditional building’s energy usage.
So can we solve some of our energy, design and pollution problems using biological solutions? Yes. Some of these structures are stronger and lighter than ours. All are biodegradable. All manufactured at mild temperatures. All are environmental friendly. This is an exciting time to be in science and technology!
One can see the mind behind these structures. The designs are beautiful. The uses are abundant. The applications are exciting. The keener we are to these master designs, the better a steward we will be with the gift of nature. The more we talk, think and use biomimicry, the more aware we can be to apply them to novel areas.
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What other uses of biology can you think of that has helped technology? Do think these structures help point to a designer?
Image source: Filcker/Joe Ross