Biomimetics - Engineering via Natural Selection

Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Biomimetics is the abstraction of good design from nature.

The most common example of this principle was the invention of Velcro by Swiss engineer George de Mestral. He was inspired by the cockleburs that kept getting caught in his dog's coat during walks.

Sounds simple, yes?

No.

Because functionality in nature was designed from the bottom up, via evolution, the designs in question tend to have lots of complexity (and not the "irreducible" kind). The unsuccessful offshoots of mutation, if they do no harm, sometimes remain with the organism, clouding the issue.

By contrast, functionality in human designed structures is designed from the top down - the final function of the unit is considered first. This allows for less clutter and more elegance in the design.

And yet, could anything be more elegant than the thorny devil lizard of the Australian desert ingesting water by wicking it from the damp ground to its mouth? Superbly adapted for its environment, able to live in an arid climate that would kill most organisms.

Some of the areas of study include "The Lotus Effect," the aspect of the Lotus leaf that allows it to be self-cleaning and water repellent; whale flipper inspired turbine blades that may be able to produce more wind power at slower speeds; using the structure of shark skin to build synthetic coatings for ship's hulls to reduce biolfouling; using the blowfly as the model for a micro-mechanical flying insect to be used for reconnaissance and research; and mimicking moth eyes to reduce glare on glass.

How cool is evolution? And how cool is this area of endeavor, that attempts to leverage evolution's successes for our own ends?

I love being human.

17 comments:

Steve Buchheit said...

Just like there's an internet/wealth-gap, I say we don't let the bible-literalists use this tech. Tech 'em right.

Janiece Murphy said...

Steve, I don't think the Bible-Literalists should get to use any technology that was developed as a result of non-Bible conforming science. Like, oh...I don't know...anything?

Back to the dark ages they go!

vince said...

I think that looking at the marvelous works of nature and doing reverse-engineering is just plain smart. And yeah, I also love being human.

Nathan said...

That really is quiet elegant.

Nathan said...

Makes me want to be human.

Janiece Murphy said...

Nathan, it's a good thing that being human isn't a requirement for the blogosphere, then, hmm?

Hehe.

Jeri said...

Janiece, are you trying to tell us something?

It is very cool technology... and seems, somehow, right as opposed to less organically-derived solutions to technical problems.

Janiece Murphy said...

Jeri, I have no idea what you're talking about.

Carol Elaine said...

As they say on xkcd: Science. It works, bitches.

Nature is beautiful and so is reverse-engineering.

Janiece Murphy said...

Carol Elaine, you make me laugh.

It does, indeed.

Jeri said...

"being human isn't a requirement for the blogosphere"

So are you trying to say you're a system engineering, jam-making, ex-Navy Chief alien? Or android? ;)

Janiece Murphy said...

Jeri, I still have no idea what you're talking about.

Plausible deniability, that's my middle name.

Tania said...

Nathan, Janiece, and the others (you know who you are) - I like you just the way you are, human or otherwise.

(Damn, now I'm going to have a freaking Billy Joel song stuck in my head all afternoon)

Nathan said...

::belts out::


You say your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation
Aww She never cared for me
But did she ever say a prayer for me? oh woah woah

Carol Elaine said...

Nathan, human or no, you are evil.

Janiece Murphy said...

Nathan, don't make me get out the Shovel of Doom™.

Jeri said...

Hot funk, cool punk, even if it's old junk / It's still rock and roll to me.

Was Billy Joel an android too? I've seen him play the piano, it's pretty superhuman.