Exploring Our World

Biomimicry 1

“Bios” means “life.” “Mimesis” means to mimic or imitate.

Learning How to Create Efficient Wind Power

The ridges on the pectoral fins of humpback whales create an aerodynamic flow in water. They inspired the design of wind turbine blades.

Learning Efficiency from Kingfishers

The Shinkansen Bullet Train of the West Japan Railway Company is the fastest train in the world, traveling 200 miles per hour.  The problem?  Noise.  Air pressure changes produced large thunder claps every time the train emerged from a tunnel, causing residents one-quarter a mile away to complain.  Eiji Nakatsu, the train’s chief engineer and an avid bird-watcher, asked himself, “Is there something in Nature that travels quickly and smoothly between two very different mediums?”  Modeling the front-end of the train after the beak of kingfishers, which dive from the air into bodies of water with very little splash to catch fish, resulted not only in a quieter train, but 15% less electricity use even while the train travels 10% faster.


A Toe-tally Awesome Way of Climbing

Many species of gecko can walk up smooth surfaces like stone walls and even glass.  Scientists studied the pads on the toes of one species, the Tokay gecko, and discovered that tiny, microscopic hairs help them “stick” to surfaces. Who would have thought having hairy toes could have its advantages?  By mimicking gecko toes, we have developed adhesives, a way to close wounds without stitches, and more.

Learning a Better Way of Sticking Together

Perhaps the most famous example of biomimicry is Velcro.  In 1941, engineer George de Mestral was walking his dog when he noticed burrs (like the ones pictured above) sticking to both of them.  When he studied the burrs under magnification, he found their clinging property was the result of hundreds of tiny hooks. His observation sparked the idea for the very useful invention we know as Velcro fastening.

Spider Web Glass

A spider’s web is one of the strongest designs in nature.  The webbing pattern design has been copied by automotive industries so that windshields crack but do not shatter.

The Inspiration for Better Engineering Designs

Engineers studied the backbone structure of the long-necked dinosaur and invented the crane.  Studying the backbones of dinosaurs is also how they learned to build better expansion bridges.

University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne, in his book Why Evolution is True, wrote: “If anything is true about nature, it is that plants and animals seem intricately and almost perfectly designed for living their lives” (2009, p. 1). He further stated, “Nature resembles a well-oiled machine, with every species an intricate cog or gear” (p. 1). On page three of the same book, he wrote: “The more one learns about plants and animals, the more one marvels at how well their designs fit their ways of life.” Of course, Coyne doesn’t believe anything is designed, it just looks that way. He believes evolution produces its own version of design.

Atheist Michael Shermer, in his book Why Darwin Matters, stated: “The design inference comes naturally. The reason people think that a Designer created the world is because it looks designed” (2006, p. 65)

There are two possibilities:

(a) Everything was intelligently designed the way it is for an intended purpose.

(b) Mutations and natural selection will produce the appearance of design.

I will predict if your chosen philosophical worldview is a supernatural one, you will choose (a).  If your chosen philosophical worldview is a strictly naturalistic one, you will choose (b).  We humans tend to let our philosophical worldviews dictate the direction our science will take.