Friday, May 7, 2010

What is Biomimicry? PDF Print E-mail
Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) is a new discipline that studies nature's best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Studying a leaf to invent a better solar cell is an example. I think of it as "innovation inspired by nature."
The core idea is that nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. They have found what works, what is appropriate, and most important, what lasts here on Earth. This is the real news of biomimicry: After 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.
Like the viceroy butterfly imitating the monarch, we humans are imitating the best adapted organisms in our habitat. We are learning, for instance, how to harness energy like a leaf, grow food like a prairie, build ceramics like an abalone, self-medicate like a chimp, create color like a peacock, compute like a cell, and run a business like a hickory forest.
The conscious emulation of life's genius is a survival strategy for the human race, a path to a sustainable future. The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.

Looking at Nature as Model, Measure, and Mentor

If we want to consciously emulate nature's genius, we need to look at nature differently.  In biomimicry, we look at nature as model, measure, and mentor.  
Nature as model: Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature’s models and then emulates these forms, process, systems, and strategies to solve human problems – sustainably.  The Biomimicry Guild and its collaborators have developed a practical design tool, called the Biomimicry Design Spiral, for using nature as model.

Nature as measure: Biomimicry uses an ecological standard to judge the sustainability of our innovations.  After 3.8 billion years of evolution, nature has learned what works and what lasts.  Nature as measure is captured in Life's Principles and is embedded in the evalute step of the Biomimicry Design Spiral.

Nature as mentor: Biomimicry is a new way of viewing and valuing nature.  It introduces an era based not on what we can extract from the natural world, but what we can learn from it.

Learn More About Biomimicry:

To learn even more, expore the In the News links, articles, and videos available through our Media page.

Energy Efficiency


Learning from Nature How to Create Flow Without Friction
Stand quietly just about anywhere and you are likely to hear a fan running – in the computer you are using, in the air conditioning unit of the building you are in, and throughout the water, air, and electrical systems upon which the city around you depends. Fans and other rotational devices are a major part of the human built environment, and a major component of our total energy usage. Although we've been building such devices in one form or another since at least 100 B.C., we've never built them like Nature does until now. Naturally flowing fluids, gases, and heat follow a common geometric pattern that differs in shape from conventional human-made rotors. 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%.



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.



Learning from Lotus Plants How to Clean without Cleaners
Ask any school child or adult how leaves keep water from sticking to them, and they'll almost certainly say, "Because they are so smooth." Yet one of the most water repellent leaves in the world, that of the Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), isn't smooth at all. The myriad crevices of its microscopically rough leaf surface trap a maze of air upon which water droplets float, so that the slightest breeze or tilt in the leaf causes balls of water to roll cleanly off, taking attached dirt particles with them. Now, microscopically rough surface additives have been introduced into a new generation of paint, glass, and fabric finishes, greatly reducing the need for chemical or laborious cleaning. For example, GreenShield, a fabric finish made by G3i based on the "lotus effect", achieves the same water and stain repellency as conventional fabric finishes while using 8 times less harmful fluorinated chemicals.



Learning from Prairies How to Grow Food Sustainably
Take a look at any natural ecosystem, such as a prairie, and you will see a remarkable system of food production: productive, resilient, self-enriching, and ultimately sustainable. The modern agricultural practices of humankind are also enormously productive, but only in the short term: the irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticide inputs upon which modern food crops depend both deplete and pollute increasingly rare water and soil resources. The Land Institute has been working successfully to revolutionize the conceptual foundations of modern agriculture by using natural prairies as a model: they have been demonstrating that using deep-rooted plants which survive year-to-year (perennials) in agricultural systems which mimic stable natural ecosystems – rather than the weedy crops common to many modern agricultural systems – can produce equivalent yields of grain and maintain and even improve the water and soil resources upon which all future agriculture depends.

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