Biomimetics: using Mother Nature as a source of inspiration

25 August 2020
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If you take a closer look at the history of mankind, you get the impression that there are no other species that could deal with its environment in such a creative and profound way. For thousands of years, people have built temples, cities, roads and other impressive structures. Bit by bit, scientists have unravelled the secrets of the natural world and you cannot imagine what our modern society would be like without this knowledge.

Like no other creatures, we are able to see the difference between a situation as it is and a situation as it could be. This has given some people the illusion that we are actually separate from nature. It is patently obvious that this illusion can have disastrous consequences. Just think of environmental pollution, overpopulation and the undeniable climate change. Therefore, many people are calling for a return to a society which is more in touch with nature. This doesn’t mean that we have to go back to living like our ancestors. On the contrary, if we dare to use Mother Nature as a source of inspiration and a mirror, then our future can be a very bright one.

Biomimetic design in architecture

Do you know the differences between a suspension bridge and an arch bridge? The architects and scientists who created them have calculated that these structures are able to withstand enormous forces like no other. If you look at the biology, you will see that the skeleton of an African elephant is built like a suspension bridge and that of an Indian elephant is like an arch bridge. Many of our inventions seem to be subconsciously based on structures that have proved to be successes in the natural world for millions of years.

Although architects can label these as coincidences, if they are wise, they will find many more examples of easily applicable solutions to concrete problems in biology. Termites have accidentally invented highly efficient forms of air conditioning for their underground metropolises, from which we can benefit. Anyone who wants to save on material costs, without compromising on sturdiness or flexibility, could study the bones of birds.

For more than 150 million years, birds have shown the capability of evolution. It is therefore no wonder that biomimetics or biomimicry, which imitates natural structures or processes, has become a fully-fledged and promising science.

Biomimetic product development

In space travel, it is crucial that satellites, spacecraft and space stations are perfectly attuned to each other. After all, if a spacecraft wants to make a coupling, it will do so at a very high speed. This explains why NASA has spent a lot of time studying the jaws of insects and the hinged functions of their various components.

The field of robotics is also unthinkable without natural examples. Just like insects, robots have a hard external structure. Just like insects, modern robots must be able to react quickly and perform their functions reliably and stably. Technicians have learned a lot from the movement apparatus of the cockroach and the leverage function of insect jaws, which are able to manipulate their own weight many times over.

Due to developments in material technology, much more is possible nowadays. This also makes biomimetic design much easier. For example, think of the possibilities of spider silk. This material is stronger than steel and extremely resilient. The rough skin of a shark is made in such a way that it hardly encounters any resistance from water. Ships will consume considerably less fuel if they are built from material that lacks virtually any resistance.

Biomimetics at the smallest level

Even at the smallest level, biology can open doors that would otherwise remain closed. You have undoubtedly heard of the enormous progress that has been made in the field of molecular genetics. To manipulate DNA, scientists need precision equipment. This equipment has existed at the molecular level for billions of years. Without restriction enzymes, which bacteria use to defuse viral infections, we would never have been able to cut and manipulate DNA fragments to size.

The revolutionary CRISPR-CAS9 system, which may make hereditary diseases a thing of the past, is also part of the natural standard repertoire of many bacteria. In a world with a rapidly changing climate, society demands creative solutions. It is to be expected that the summers in our regions will become drier and hotter. By linking genetic engineering and biomimetic design, we will be able to adapt our food crops accordingly.

A sustainable organisation

It is clear that we can draw our inspiration from nature to create new, valuable products. The principles of Biomimetics can be taken a step further. The way in which we organise companies can also benefit from principles used by nature. Today, many organisations are struggling with their structure. They are too rigid, lack flexibility and have a culture of learned dependence. The reverse is also true, in that too much freedom and independence also creates specific problems.

Nature can also provide the necessary inspiration here; the strength of a natural ecosystem lies in the balance between the independence of elements that have their clearly defined functions and the interrelationships between the various components.

Each component and each person in your organisation has their own goals, their own priorities and their own talents, just like organisms in a biological ecosystem. By using them in an interdependent network, they are most likely to reach maturity. Your organisation can reap the benefits from this.

By rewarding people and departments with both hard-digit targets and also the degree of cooperation and synergy, you can drive and motivate your team and organisation to go forward. You will notice that loyalty and involvement increase because your employees feel far more appreciated. The chances are that there will be many more creative solutions from the shop floor than from the boardroom. In this way, you will of course create a win-win situation for the employees and the organisation.

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If you want to realise sustainable change in your organisation, Happonomy may be able to help. Our solutions help to make sustainable transformation possible. If this interests you, take a look at our solutions section or just contact us.

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