Five Technology Designs that Mimic Nature

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Biomimicry is the process of technologically simulating structures and systems found in the natural world. Scientists and engineers are interested in biomimicry because it often leads to innovations that help us live better and do more. Here are five examples:

The Shark-Skin Swimsuit

Speedo has a line of swimsuits called Fastskin that are made from super-stretch nylon and strategically covered with a texture that mimics the tiny teeth-like projections of a shark’s skin. Known as denticles, these projections cut the drag as the shark swims, allowing it to swim faster and use 10 percent less energy while doing so. Like a shark’s skin, the Fastskin suit sucks water closer into the swimmer’s body, reducing drag by 4 percent. During the 2004 Olympics, champion swimmer, Michael Phelps wore a Fastskin suit. He went on to win six gold and two bronze metals, becoming the first swimmer to do so in a single Olympics. Additionally, out of the 26 Olympic records broken during that year, 18 of them were by swimmers wearing this suit.

The Skinkansen Bullet Train

The designers of the Shinkansen Bullet Train modelled the train’s nose after the beak of the Kingfisher. The Kingfisher’s beak is streamlined, with an increasing diameter from the tip to where it meets the bird’s head. This shape allows the bird to move efficiently from the low resistance environment of the air into the higher resistance environment beneath the surface of the water as it hunts for food. The main issue facing the train’s designers was the loud noise that high-speed trains make when they exit underground tunnels into the open air. In mimicking the shape of the Kingfisher’s beak, the designers were able to reduce the train’s noise as well as make the train 10 percent faster while cutting its power usage by 15 percent.

The Dew Bank Bottle

The tiny Stenocara beetle of Namibia is the inspiration for a revolutionary water collection system that scientists hope will help countries in arid regions get the water they need. The bumps on the beetle’s back collect water from dew or fog. In addition, the little creature’s shell is coated in a waxy substance that channels the water into the beetle’s mouth. Taking note of this, Pak Kitae of the Seoul National University of Technology created the “Dew Bank Bottle.” Like the tiny insect, the bottle’s material encourages water to condense on its surface. The water is then repelled toward the bottle’s interior.

Termite-Inspired Climate Control

Termite dens are able to maintain a temperature of 87 degrees despite wide swings in the outside temperature, from 30 to 100 degrees in a single day, for example. The termites do this by building thick walls and encouraging air flow from holes near the bottom to those at the top. Architect Mick Pearce used the same concept for the design of the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe. Large chimneys encourage air flow via convection, wherein hotter air rises to the top and is replaced by cooler air from below. Thanks to this layout, the massive 333,000 square foot building uses 90 percent less energy for climate control.

Water Filtration Inspired by the Cell

Scientists have discovered proteins in the cells of animals that transport water across the cell membrane. These proteins are called aquaporins. Aquaporins are quite selective and are able to filter out unwanted particles to a degree that no human made water filter has been able to match. Inspired by biological aquaporins, scientists have developed a synthetic variety that, through reverse osmosis, can filter water with a similar degree of selectivity.

From shark-skin inspired swimsuits to better water filtration, biomimicry is helping humans live and work better. You can read about more biomimicry here and here.



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