Biomimicry is defined as imitation of the living. Science uses it to take what nature has perfected over millions of years and uses the same processes to solve human problems and meet human needs. It allows humans to be more efficient, resilient and sustainable.
Living organisms have evolved over time and created well-adapted structures through natural selection. Humans have learned to observe these structures and create man-made objects that imitate the natural world. The earliest example of this would be when the Wright brothers observed and imitated how birds use their wings in flight. They were able to then use their observations and notes to create the first aircraft in 1903, based mostly on their study of pigeons in flight.
Biomimicry falls into three different levels – mimicking a form/shape in nature; mimicking a process carried out by nature; mimicking a material and how it performs.
Mimicking a form/shape in nature
Honeycomb=man-made core: built for flexibility, strength and being lightweight – engineers have found similar uses in cardboard boxes, automotive and airplane parts and creating buildings that have superb insulation
Glass sponge=fiber weave: built for strength in strong ocean currents – man has utilized this structure in aerospace applications and structural engineers mimic the techniques to build structures such as skyscrapers.
Mimicking a process carried out by nature
Pine cone=fabric: pinecones open and close only when the air is dry – an engineer in Britain is working on constructing a fabric that imitates this process in order that clothes might not feel as damp when its wet outside
Mimicking a material and how it performs
Peacock feather=hologram: naturally brown pigments reflect light back to us through layers and create the blues or greens we see – now used is e-reader screens, holographic displays and color changing paints.
Burr=Velcro: examined under a microscope, burrs reveal tiny hooks that one engineer recreated and founded the ever-popular Velcro
Biomimicry Design Process
If one wants to solve a problem using biomimicry, there is actually a spiral design process created to do just that. IT involves six important steps that a design team should take when searching for solutions.
- Define the challenge
- Biologize function and context (frame problem to find inspiration in nature)
- Discover biological strategies
- Abstract design strategies
- Emulate nature’s lessons
- Evaluate fit and function
Head out to nature now and observe.
What do you observe in nature that can be related to a real-world solution?
What problem do you have currently that could possibly be solved with biomimicry?