Bio-mimetics: The Science of Engineering Derived from Biology

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Dr. Khurshid Ahmad Tariq

Allah, the Omniscient and Omnipotent, has created every living organism with a unique architecture and perfect design. The holy Quran promotes the acquisition of new knowledge and enjoins upon human to study nature and investigate the truth. Man is Allah’s viceroy on earth enriched with knowledge and wisdom. The species has always been fascinated by nature and taking cues and ideas from nature has enabled man to live a successful and dominant life.
Bio-mimetics also known as bio-mimicry or bionics or bio-inspiration or biognosis is a creativity engineering inspired by nature based on the principles, processes, designs, methods and mechanisms characterizing living organisms. This branch of science has helped design and develop innovative technology and engineering systems in a variety of fields like energy, agriculture, architecture, medicine, transportation and communication for the betterment of human kind.
For the first time, Otto Schmitt coined the term bio-mimetics describing transfer of ideas from biology to technology. Bio-mimetics assumed greater significance in science and technology dating back to just two decades in 1997, when Janine Benyus came up with a book, “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature” and it popularized the term to a great extent particularly in the European countries.
In this era of computers, bio-mimetic innovative technology based on biological designs and principles holds the key to achieve sustainable progress. For example, the aerodynamic designs in aircrafts and airbuses have been taken from natural architecture and principles from birds. The best example can be taken from Wright brothers who succeeded in creating first flying airplane taking inspiration from flying pigeons. Even the Velcro fastener concept has been derived from the hook like projections of a fruit, Burr sticking to animal hair for efficient seed dispersal. Similarly, camouflaging learnt from animals has also been put to many uses in military and defence services. The ultimate goal of bio-mimetics is to develop methods for the creation of such policies, products, mechanisms, processes and phenomenon for a well-adapted life on this planet.
There are innumerable examples and engineering designs which have been adapted from biology to build marvelous examples and instances of engineering. In this essay, I have tried to cite few such examples based on ideas, design and architecture from the animal world. These include:
1. The magnetic navigation techniques used by certain migratory birds has helped man to design autonomous drone vehicles to circulate in air without the aid of GPS or maps used by worlds toughest US air force;
2. Scientists are learning and applying lessons from humpback whales to the design of efficient wind turbine to create efficient wind power. Under natural conditions in water, a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is about 40-50 feet long and weighing around 80,000 pounds. It swims in circles tight enough to produce nets of bubbles only five feet across while corralling and catching krill (shrimp like prey). It has been explored through many observations that the whale’s surprising dexterity is due to mainly its flippers, which have large bumps called tubercles across their leading edges, and it uses them for efficient propulsion. Such a design has been employed to develop efficient wind power turbines;
3. Learning from termites, how to create sustainable buildings (architectural use) with internal climate control system innovatively adopted from structure of termite mounds. Many buildings have already come in different parts of the world with natural temperature control taking ideas from termite mounds (houses);
4. The wood peckers mechanical shock absorbing natural design in the head is being employed to build classy collision and shock resistant aircrafts/spacecrafts and vehicles. Briefly, the wood peckers semi-elastic beak, spongy bony material behind the skull and CSF prove the means of vibration minimisers and shock absorbers;
5. Antimicrobial nano films mimicking shark skin, which is naturally covered with dermal denticles, just like flexible layers of small teeth for creating a low pressure zone when in motion for pulling the shark forward by reducing the drag. These denticles are used to repel microbes. Using this concept, the U.S. Navy force has developed a layered material (called as Sharklet) on ship surfaces to inhibit growth of microbes on ships. One of its features has been mimicked for manufacturing Olympic swim suits for efficient swimming; however its use has been banned in Olympic competitions;
6. Interesting learning from Kingfisher birds how to break through boundaries has helped to manufacture transportation vehicles with low production of noise. Similarly, the front end of the bullet train in Japan has been designed taking a cue from the beak of kingfisher bird (streamlined nose), this resulted in less consumption of electricity and increase in the speed but minimum production of noise by displacing the air ahead of the train by nature efficient means. This bird is known to travel very quickly and smoothly between two different mediums from air to water with very little splash to catch fish with minimal production of noise;
7. The blend of material science and biology of mosquitoes to create a nicer needle at a nanometer scale with minimum of fuss and minimum of pain has been innovatively achieved by Japanese scientists. This material needle penetrates like a mosquito, using pressure to stabilize and painlessly glide into the skin;
Mercedes Benz Bionic concept car based on a streamlined body and low drag has been designed after a marine fish, yellow boxfish, Ostracion cubicus living in coral reefs;
8. The efficient drill of the wood boring wasp ovipositor natural design enables it to penetrate deeper and deeper smoothly into the wood with just a delicate force a wasp exerts has enabled neurosurgeons to use the tools based on same principles, neuroprobe tipped with the wasp bio-mimetic design requiring the least amount of force to move. By researchers at Imperial college London and Kansai University, Japan;
9. Learning from dolphins how to send waves under water. Dolphins are able to recognise the special calls called signature whistles as far as 25 KM demonstrating their ability to communicate and process the sound waves accurately in the challenging medium of water and coping with the sound scattering behaviour. This unique frequency modulating acoustics has enabled human to formulate a high performance underwater modem for data transmission for tsunami early warning system;
10. The recent trend has been to employ bio-mimicry/ nature inspired solutions for combating climate change by managing carbon emissions through the ecosystem based management of carbon capturing. For example, a high performance plastic (called as AirCarbon) made with captured carbon from emissions and BioWave production which employs renewable energy technology that harvests wave action energy with kelp motion. Nature has evolved means and strategies to take advantage of carbon, so man has used champion adaptors like sea kelp, colony insects, plant fibers, coral reefs, and so on. to tackle carbon and climate change. Therefore, what we can’t learn from nature by exploiting biological strategies. Man has launched a comprehensive project Drawdown to reverse global warming;
11. Nano bio-mimetics is the creative and innovative form of bioengineering to copy or imitate nature and natural designs at the nano scale and is recognised as the technology of future;
12. Bio-mimetic robotics is also emerging as an innovative field wherein the motor mechanisms of flexible animals and insects are used to mimic robot mobility for sustainable utility in human development. Even the flying robots or drone cameras are based on the ideas and designs from insects, birds and bats;
13. It is worth mentioning that water birds have enabled man to build the aquatic Micro-Air-Vehicle which can far reach to aquatic destinations for data collection and later return back to air.

The above examples prove using nature’s genius in making our life more successful and sustainable. It is all about generating innovation ideas from nature to human technology. Various initiatives worldwide have resulted in the tremendous growth of this field including training, consultancy, awards and institutes.
Bio-mimetics is helping to build a new generation of educators, sustainable innovators and entrepreneurs to create nature inspired solutions for healthy living on this planet. To be more sustainable in use, I believe teaching the bio-mimetics as a subject at college and university levels will help in creating a pool of nature inspired youth to help humanity.

The author holds a Ph. D. in Zoology and works as an Assistant Professor at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce, Srinagar. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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