Monday, October 24, 2011

Biomimicry - Natural solutions to everyday problems

Humans have always looked to nature for inspiration to solve problems. One of the early examples of biomimicry was the study of birds to enable human flight.Otto Schmitt, an American academic and inventor, coined the term biomimetics to describe the transfer of ideas from biology to technology. The term biomimetics only entered the Websters Dictionary in 1974 and is defined as "the study of the formation, structure, or function of biologically produced substances and materials (as enzymes or silk) and biological mechanisms and processes (as protein synthesis or photosynthesis) especially for the purpose of synthesizing similar products by artificial mechanisms which mimic natural ones".

The term biomimicry was popularized by scientist and author Janine Benyus in her 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Biomimicry is defined in her book as a "new science that studies nature's models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems". Benyus suggests looking to Nature as a "Model, Measure, and Mentor" and emphasizes sustainability as an objective of biomimicry. The Biomimicry Institute was founded in 2005 , in response to overwhelming interest in the subject following the publication of her book.

A typical case study of biomimicry is Eastgate Centre, in Harare, Zimbabwe, in Africa. The Eastgate building has an air conditioning system modeled on the self-cooling mounds of Macrotermes michaelseni, termites that maintain the temperature inside their nest to within one degree, day and night.  Architect Mick Pearce collaborated with engineers at Arup Associates to design Eastgate, which uses 90% percent less energy for ventilation than conventional buildings its size, and has already saved the building owners over $3.5 million dollars in air conditioning costs.

Nature moves water and air using a logarithmic or exponentially growing spiral, as commonly seen in seashells. This pattern shows up everywhere in Nature: in the curled up trunks of elephants and tails of chameleons, in the pattern of swirling galaxies in outer space and kelp in ocean surf, and in the shape of the cochlea of our inner ears and our own skin pores. Inspired by the way Nature moves water and air, PAX Scientific Inc. applied this fundamental geometry to the shape of human-made rotary devices for the first time, in fans, mixers, propellers, turbines and pumps. Depending on application, the resulting designs reduce energy usage by a staggering 10-85% over conventional rotors, and noise by up to 75%.

One project of the Biomimicry Institute is Innovation for Conservation. Companies and individuals who participate support the efforts of conservation organizations to protect biodiversity, generally from a portion of profits derived from the sale of products inspired by nature. With the help of biodiversity experts, The Biomimicry Institute (TBI) helps identify the most promising conservation initiatives deserving of support, encourages participation in the program from companies with product designs inspired by nature, and publicizes our partners’ participation in the program. TBI does this work for free. 100% of partner donations go to on-the-ground, effective conservation efforts.

AskNature, is the online inspiration source for the Biomimicry community.  A free, open source project, built by the community and for the community, AskNature's goal is to connect innovative minds with life’s best ideas, and in the process, inspire technologies that create conditions conducive to life.

Next time you're outside, look around and see all the marvelous ways that nature solves everyday problems. Who knows? It might inspire you to invent the next big thing.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.