Velcro, bullet trains, and robotic arms: how nature is the mother of invention | environment

aOver millions of years of evolution, nature has come up with solutions to many problems. The humans arrived late in the day and pinched them. for example, Velcro was invented After a Swiss engineer was amazed at the bumps of burdock that stuck to his dog’s fur; The idea for the robotic arms came from the movement and ability to grip elephants’ trunks, and the front of bullet trains in Japan were redesigned to mimic the streamlined beak of a kingfisher, reducing the sonic boom they made from the tunnels.

There are different types of mimicry, the most obvious being the simple idea of ​​copying something found in nature. Buildings are an obvious example, as shown before Research published in the journal Nature. Beijing’s National Stadium is inspired by a bird’s nest, India’s Lotus Temple is shaped, unsurprisingly, like a lotus and Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah is shaped like a palm tree.

Lotus Temple in Delhi, India
Temple of the lotus flower in Delhi, India. Photo: Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Then there’s the simulation of both design and function, like the camouflage dress inspired by nature’s ability to disguise. Then there’s just the function mimicking, for example, the blades modeled into the silent propellers on a whale’s fins and the gecko’s tape on a lizard’s sticky feet.

Our ability to copy nature has become more sophisticated thanks to advances in nanotechnology. The atomic force microscope, invented in the 1980s, uses a probe with a very sharp tip 1,000 times smaller than the width of a hair and can closely scan samples of material. This has facilitated the development of biomimicry, allowing for better replication of natural materials than ever before.

Sourav Goel, professor of manufacturing at London South Bank University, has been engineering materials that degrade, as sustainable alternatives to those currently used. “Plastics, glass, cement and alloys are common engineering materials and recycling them takes a lot of energy. This means that it will take several decades for their natural decomposition. This is the primary barrier to sustainability,” he says.

His team is trying Duplicate dragonfly wings, which are naturally antibacterial, for use in artificial body parts because they can be more hygienic than current materials. His goal is to create a “bio-robot” in the next 50 years that will have soft tissues similar to those of a human. “For us, our human body is the perfect biological machine,” he says.

Five great ideas from nature for the future

Mussel clinging to a rock
The ability of mussels to cling to rock has led scientists to try to produce similar sticky proteins, which can melt material underwater. Photo: John Gregory/Alamy

1. Scientists have long admired how well mussels stick to rocks underwater. Currently, They are working out how to clone their sticky proteins To make a non-toxic glue that sticks materials together instantly, even under water. It can be used to seal wounds after surgery.

Mother duck swimming in formation with ducklings
Examining how ducks propel forward when swimming in a single row could provide clues to charging cargo more efficiently. Photograph: Susan Feldberg/Alamy

2. Watch how the ducks swim in a row Provide guides for shipping goods around the world in more energy efficient ways. When a duckling finds the “sweet spot” behind its mother, something called “destructive wave interference” occurs: instead of a drag holding the duckling back, it actually pulls it forward so that it uses less energy to paddle along. Other ducklings in the line also benefit. If ships travel as part of “water trains” they can carry more cargo without additional fuel.

Microgreen pea roots growing in coconuts
the roots of young pea plants growing in coconuts; The roots of plants like these have natural water filtration techniques. Photo: William Gill/Alamy

3. Plant roots are able to selectively absorb water and specific nutrients needed for growth. Scientists are trying to imitate them Better water purification techniques.

The blue-green changing skin of a tiger chameleon
The leopard chameleon’s color-changing skin is the inspiration for artificial “smart skins” that can be used as camouflage. Photo credit: Volodymyr Berdyak/Alami

4. Chameleons’ color-changing skin contains tiny crystals that reflect light differently depending on their size or how they’re arranged – to change their color you simply tense or relax the skin. Scientists are working on how to replicate the way they adjust their colors based on their environment To make artificial “smart skins”. Which can be used for camouflage or for long distance signaling.

Close-up view of a plant leaf
Scientists are trying to replicate a plant’s ability to trap the sun’s energy during photosynthesis to produce solar fuel. Image: Scientific Photo Library/Alami

5. Plants produce food by photosynthesis, and when they do so they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. For decades, scientists have been trying to replicate this process as a way to produce energy and tackle the climate crisis. California researchers Now I’ve been able to convert carbon dioxide into ethanol (which can be used as fuel) using a makeshift solar cell.

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