National Geographic on Biomimetics

This month's National Geographic has a beautifully-written feature on the state-of-the-art in biomimetics, the science and art of looking to nature for design inspiration. The article is accompanied by mind-blowing photographs, and fortunately the whole package is available online, with video too. Seen here is an invention inspired by the way burrs stuck to a dog's fur... Velcro! From National Geographic:
A research fellow at the Natural History Museum in London and at the University of Sydney, Parker is a leading proponent of biomimetics–applying designs from nature to solve problems in engineering, materials science, medicine, and other fields. He has investigated iridescence in butterflies and beetles and antireflective coatings in moth eyes–studies that have led to brighter screens for cellular phones and an anticounterfeiting technique so secret he can't say which company is behind it. He is working with Procter & Gamble and Yves Saint Laurent to make cosmetics that mimic the natural sheen of diatoms, and with the British Ministry of Defense to emulate their water-repellent properties. He even draws inspiration from nature's past: On the eye of a 45-million-year-old fly trapped in amber he saw in a museum in Warsaw, Poland, he noticed microscopic corrugations that reduced light reflection. They are now being built into solar panels.

Parker's work is only a small part of an increasingly vigorous, global biomimetics movement. Engineers in Bath, England, and West Chester, Pennsylvania, are pondering the bumps on the leading edges of humpback whale flukes to learn how to make airplane wings for more agile flight. In Berlin, Germany, the fingerlike primary feathers of raptors are inspiring engineers to develop wings that change shape aloft to reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency. Architects in Zimbabwe are studying how termites regulate temperature, humidity, and airflow in their mounds in order to build more comfortable buildings, while Japanese medical researchers are reducing the pain of an injection by using hypodermic needles edged with tiny serrations, like those on a mosquito's proboscis, minimizing nerve stimulation.
Link (Thanks, Marilyn Terrell!)


  1. All very laudible and interesting work which will doubtless be of great value – as long as it doesn’t get hijacked by the “intelligent design ” crowd .

  2. “Biomimetics”? Norbert Wiener called it “cybernetics” when he formalized the discipline (he said it was “the study of control and communication in the animal and the machine”, but later he and others extended the discipline to include all naturally occurring systems that can be modeled by artifice).

    I wonder what these folks think the prefix “cyber” is all about?

    Funny story about Dr. W. that his daughter swears is not true:

    NW: Hmm, the key’s not working in the lock on my front door. I must be lost again. “Little girl, do you know where the famous scientist Dr. Weiner lives?”

    Little Girl: “Yes Daddy, Mommy sent me over to bring you home again. We moved two weeks ago!”


  3. In 1904, Ernst Haeckel did a study on finding design inspiration in natural forms. His book, Kunstformen von der Natur (Art Forms in Nature) caused a sensation at the time, and it’s still in print today. At the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, we digitized a popular picture book adaptation of Haeckel’s study titled Die Natur als Kunstlerin (Nature as Artist). The illustrations look like creatures from outer space, but they are actually jellyfish, diatoms or the patterns of folds on the face of a bat. I posted a bunch of scans. See…

    ASIFA Archive: Incorporating Natural Forms

    Stephen Worth
    ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive

  4. “…as long as it doesn’t get hijacked by the ‘intelligent design’ crowd”, said the man as he hijacked an interesting thread about a National Geographic article.

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