How does nature make things?

This post was written by Andrea Paoletti

Close up view of shark skin

Vascular bundles in syngonium

When you have to start a project, why don’t you ask yourself : “ What would nature do? “Biomimicry is a new discipline that studies nature and uses it as a blueprint to design and build more sustainably. Because  Nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems that we humans are grappling with. Animals, plants and microbes are the consummate engineers. After years of evolution, they know what works, what is appropriate and importantly, what will last. The people who make our world, have started asking to have biologists sitting at the table because learning about the natural world is one thing, learning from the natural world is another. A renowned Biomimicry expert is Janine Benyus . The following is an excerpt  of her speech given at the TED Global Conference in 2009.

If I could reveal anything that is hidden from us, at least in modern cultures, it would be to reveal something that we’ve forgotten – something we used to know as well as we know our own names: that we live in a competent universe; that we are part of a brilliant planet and we are surrounded by genius.[ … ]

Biomimicry is a new discipline, that tries to learn from those geniuses, to take design advice from them… I’m surrounded by genius – the organisms and the eco systems that all know how to live gracefully on this planet. And this is what I’d tell you to remember if you ever forgot … This is what happens every year. This is what keeps its promise … Spring happens.

Imagine designing Spring! Imagine the organisation, the orchestration, the timing, the co-ordination; without top-down laws, policies or climate change protocols. It happens every year …  lots of showing off … lots of love in the air …  lots of grand openings … and the organisms, I promise you, have their priorities in order.

What is happening now, in this field of Biomimicry, is that people are beginning to remember that other organisms – the rest of the natural world – are doing what we need to do and they’re doing it in a way that has allowed them to live on this planet for billions of years. These people, the Biomimics, are nature’s apprentices … They have said to themselves: “What if, every time I started to invent something, I asked: how would nature solve this?” [ … ]

For example, take this engineer who works at JR West – the people who make the bullet train. It was called the bullet train because it was rounded in front but each time it went into a tunnel, it would build up a pressure wave … and create a sonic boom as it left the tunnel. His boss said: “Find a way to quieten this train.”

Now, the engineer just happened to be a birdwatcher … He studied a film about kingfishers and saw how they enter the water without a splash, so they can see the fish. He thought: “What if we do this – quieten the train; make it go 10 per cent faster on 15 per cent less electricity.”

The architecture of the pattern on the shark’s skin keeps bacteria from being able to land and adhere. A company called Sharklet Technologies are putting these denticles on surfaces in hospitals to keep bacteria from landing, which is better than dousing them with anti-bacterials or harsh cleansers that many organisms are now becoming resistant to. [ … ]

Now, there is a group of scientists that are making what they call a ‘synthetic tree’ because, they are saying: “There is no pump at the bottom of a tree.” Instead, its capillary action and transpiration pulls water up, a drop at a time, pulling it up through the roots. They’re creating a kind of wallpaper and thinking of putting it on the insides of buildings, to move water up without pumps.

When you think: “How does nature make things?”, just go to the website AskNature.org because you can find various contributions and aswers by scientists that will help you to get in touch with incredible models.

Transcript: © TEDGlobal 2009

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