Biomimicry simply means imitating nature. By observing and studying nature, its elements, processes, models and systems, through biomimicry, we can design, develop, engineer or emulate new innovations and technologies to solve a range of simple and complex human problems. An everyday example is solar energy which is essentially related to the process of photosynthesis – the solar cell is modelled on the function of a leaf.
The study of biomimicry can provide insights into nature and how natural elements and systems can provide inspiration and solutions for the development of sustainable and environmentally friendly innovations. One of the well-known serendipitous discoveries that is now used worldwide was the development of Velcro®. In 1941 Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral, after returning from a hunting trip with his dog in the Alps, noticed that burrs had stuck onto his clothes and also on the fur of his dog. Being curious he decided to view the burrs under the microscope to determine why these burrs were sticking to fur. He noticed a large number of little hooks on the ends of the burrs. De Mestral was inspired by these observations to emulate the function of the burrs using synthetic material. He settled on using nylon which was an emerging material at that time and invented Velcro® which is now used widely in a range of different applications.
Incorporating biomimicry concepts into design and innovation processes can provide a number of advantages when developing new products or solving problems:
- Sustainable – Nature inspires products and processes that are natural and adapted to the environment.
- Efficient – The natural environment seems to be more efficient than the environments created by humans.
- Cost effective – Nature has a tendency to design structures and shapes that utilise materials efficiently thereby cutting down on materials and associated costs.
- Energy saving – Nature maximises the use of natural resources by using processes and systems that optimise energy usage.
- Minimal waste – In nature, materials and waste are minimised or recycled into value-added products. Both waste and new materials are integrated in natural systems.
- Differentiated brand – Nature has a tendency to create its own unique shapes that define its brand which becomes enduring.
Leonardo da Vinci was an exemplar for utilising the concept of biomimicry through his observations of nature to bring to life his paintings and drawings. Many of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions were inspired by observations of natural phenomena. For example, Leonardo’s design for a flying machine was inspired by closely studying the wings and flights of birds, while his designs for a parachute and a helicopter resulted from his observations of seed pods and flowers falling from trees.
The Biomimicry Institute’s Student Design Challenge shows some amazing design’s inspired by biomimicry http://www.biomimicrydesignchallenge.com/gallery.
I encourage you to take some time and connect with nature as a means to providing inspiration in your work and personal life. Who knows; your next idea for a new product or design may come from your observations of nature!
Dr John Kapeleris