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Biomimicry

  1. Introduction

Smith defines the concept of Biomimicry as a “discipline dedicated to learning from and imitating nature rather than exploiting it” (p.52). It involves looking at nature as vulnerable master to learn from and, where possible, to be emulated and rather, not as a raw material to be exploited (Smith, 53). According to Reed, biomimicry has three major areas; using nature as a model, as a mentor, and as a measure of standard (p.23). Ghahremani (32) adds that biomimicry can go beyond product design innovation to involve process improvement. It inspires sustainable innovations, ranging from non-toxic adhesives (mussel’s gripping mechanisms) to energy-saving display screens inspired by the light-reflecting properties of a butterfly wing.

  1. Uses of Mimicry in Research

The biomimetric revolution inspires a clean, natural future and sustainable products that perform well, save energy, cut material cost and create little waste. The economic advantages of biomimicry have motivated many companies to execute biomimicry projects. Biomimicry, with its focus on how biological systems adapt in the face of constrained resources, can open up new markets, improve efficiency, and lead to the creation of new products (Ghahremani, 36). However, it is worthy noting the two main approaches recognized in biomimicry, defining a design problem and then referring to nature’s way of solving it, and defining function or behavior in an ecosystem or in an organization and transforming this into a design (Calabrese, 54). The concept has been applied in various areas of research including science, health or medicine, the environment, engineering, computing (ICT), building and design.

    1. Mimicry in Building & Design

There has been a growing interest in biomimicry suggesting that various groups are becoming more aware that nature has much to offer in improving various systems of operation. The approach has triggered engineers to realize and advance efficient technologies in architecture. According Calabrese (54), TRIZ, a theory of inventive problem solving that creates an algorithmic approach for novel inventions of systems and improving existing systems make it possible to systematically transfer technology from biology into engineering. He explains that many aspects in biology have analogies in engineering and thus inspiring human innovation through the use of nature in this field of interest.

Calabrese (54) notes that biomimicry in architecture is not realized much in buildings but rather in the products and materials. Examples of such bio-inspired products include Speedo Fastskin, DaimlerChrsler Bionic car, and Lotsun among others. Nonetheless, biologically inspired technologies are developed for different areas of architecture such as insulation, electric lighting, windows, controls and mechanical systems.

Inspired by organisms which have developed optimized strategies and challenged their harsh environmental conditions, architects are able to construct extraordinary structure using less energy as compared to conventional building. They imitate the strategies used by termites with their local natural system, the termite mound. An example is the Eastgate Building (1996) in Harare, Zimbabwe. The building uses the same principle used as the termite mound to regulate temperature, where termites continuously open and close cooling and heating vents throughout the day. The architect applied the same principle resulting into a building that has no air conditioning and virtually no heating (Smith, 54). The diagram below illustrates the concept. To the right is the termite mound and to the left is the Eastgate Building.

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Retrieved from:
http://www.core77.com/blog/sustainable_design/biomimicry_38_what_would_you_ask_nature_21799.asp

Photovoltaic cells are another classic example of biomimicry in buildings. It utilizes the understanding of the function of plant leaves for solar energy absorption without producing any pollution. Current new technologies with these cells are integrated in windows and generate electricity while allowing daylight to penetrate the building.

    1. Mimicry in Science

Ghahremani (32) argues that, biomimicry describes how nature provides an inspiration for solving complex problems while leaving ecosystems intact. Scientists have continuously worked on nature inspired innovations that encourages design of new and improved systems and mechanisms. They have come up with various technologies that monitor the environment. Robots are designed by utilizing the biomimicry to operate autonomously to collect high fidelity data over various geographic regions over a given period. For instance, a fully autonomous marine research drone (Wave Glider) scours the ocean collecting scientific data with solar-powered sensors (Ghahremani, 35). The device utilizes the energy from ocean waves to propel itself without fuel. The sensors of this robot collects and wirelessly transmits unprecedented amount of detailed information about ocean conditions such as ocean temperature, weather conditions, wave height, water quality and chemistry. This information is used to shed light on the impacts of global climate change and pollution.

Other approaches used include the use battery-powered robots that work on their own designs mimicking the movement of fish. The sensor attached to them detect oil slicks, do underwater environmental reconnaissance and measure water quality. Some work to track down and monitor sources of pollution. Similarly, on land, sensor-equipped robots have been designed to move around on cables and tracks with an intention of tracking down biodiversity, take note of unusual environmental changes and assess biochemical cycles. Robotic eyes keep watch over energy infrastructure. For instance, solar powered robots independently crawl on electric transmission lines looking for equipment wear and tear, defects, and signs of stress, and overgrown trees that have potential for power outages (Ghahremani, 35). Similarly, Robo Bees are used in RoboBees Research for a number of applications such as weather and climate mapping, traffic monitoring and environmental exploration.

    1. Mimicry in Environmental Research

Biomimicry has also played a big role in the area of environmental research. According to (Reed, 24), harnessing energy help the world solve much of its problems. Researchers are thus looking forward to invent methods similar to the processes used by plants especially photosynthesis. Silicon-based solar cells are examples of how efficient sun’s energy can be converted into electricity. Utilization of nature’s efficient method of harnessing sun’s energy, photosynthesis concept, implies a clean electrical production, efficient power packs, splitting of water to produce clean-burning hydrogen, and high speed switching for computing. Biomimicry also has a significant implication for agriculture (Reed, 24). Creating a farming model based on the methods of the prairie facilitates better farming practices. This is illustrated in the diagram shown below.

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Fig 2. Prairie at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Iowa

Retrieved from: http://ben.biomimicry.net/category/news/

Development of an agricultural system that is ecologically stable can demonstrate how native vegetation could share space with food crops and reduce the dependence on herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. The use of native plants ensures food crops remain healthy since the soil is replenished by natural decomposition and the diversity does not attract concentration of pests.

  1. Conclusion

Biomimicry links the human-made world to the natural world. Nature is used as a model, a standard of measurement and as a mentor to solve various problems due to efficiency of the systems invented through biomimicry. Being an interdisplinary field, Biomimicry has been crucial for scientists, engineers, ecologists and other specialists. It has been so useful these fields and will continue influencing our lives more since, even as advanced as we are, we know little about nature.

Works Cited

Calabrese, Luisa. The Architecture Annual 2007-2008. Delft University of Technology, 010 Publishers, 2009. Print.

Ghahremani, Yasmin. “Biomimicry.” Corporate Knights (Summer, 2012): 30-36.

Reed, Philip. “A Paradigm Shift: Biomimicry,” The Technology Teacher (December/January, 2004): 23-27. Print.

Smith, Jeremy. “Its Only Natural.” Ecologist, 37 (8) 2007: 52-55. Print.