Nowadays we face many problems in trying to develop sustainable technologies. This has led to the field of biomimicry, where we learn from systems that have evolved to suit perfectly their environments. Biomimicry is basically biologically inspired engineering. Below you will see just a few examples of Biomimicry including Velcro, gecko tape and the lotus effect in some detail. Numerous other projects are also already helping humans around the world and many more are yet to be developed.
Velcro is probably the world’s most famous example of biomimicry. The inventor George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, was casually walking his dog in a nearby park when he suddenly caught on to a eureka moment. Surely there would be a way to imitate the persistent burrs which hooked and stuck onto clothes and animal furs to create a clothes fastener that would rival the zip. This spurred eight years of trialling and improvement until finally, there was a breakthrough in an efficient and economical model to make what is now known as an amalgamation of the two French words – velour and crochet – Velcro.
A design for ‘gecko tape’ originating from the gecko lizard is currently under development as another outcome of biomimicry. Gecko lizards have the fascinating ability to be able to cling onto vertical walls, even glass. Scientists have been working on replicating the nanoscopic hairs, that can be seen on the Gecko’s feet only through a microscope, which provide the van der Waals force, keeping the Gecko attracted onto surfaces at all times. There are still a few problems facing those working on gecko tape, for example the tape is not reusable. Nevertheless years of testing and progress are almost always necessary before a new product can make it to the global market – just as Velcro did.
‘The Lotus Effect’, or ‘superhydrophobicity’ as its technical term, has been growing in popularity recently and has led to a number of innovations in technology. Fundamentally, the effect involves copying the water-repelling properties of the Lotus flower. After studying the surface of lotus leaves more closely with an electron microscope Scientists have found that millions of tiny rough bumps on the surface counter-intuitively repel the droplets of water. This causes the plant to remain clean as water washes straight off it.
These examples show how beneficial nature can be in providing the spark for solutions to the current pressing problems. Biomimicry really is the best way to fully utilise the power of Mother Nature and the incredible creations she has gifted us.