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Hot Topics Biomimicry

Hot Topics Biomimicry

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Published by Nesta
This summary paper provides details on the Hot Topics event on Biomimicry.

Biomimicry is to use Nature with its 3.8 billion years of trial and error, as inspiration to find solutions to today's problems and creative processes. One famous example is Velcro - developed in the 1950's by Georges de Mestral who observed the sticking of burrs (seeds) from Burdock to his clothes and his dog.
This summary paper provides details on the Hot Topics event on Biomimicry.

Biomimicry is to use Nature with its 3.8 billion years of trial and error, as inspiration to find solutions to today's problems and creative processes. One famous example is Velcro - developed in the 1950's by Georges de Mestral who observed the sticking of burrs (seeds) from Burdock to his clothes and his dog.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Nesta on Oct 03, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Biomimicry: Biology inspires innovation
July 2012
Nesta Hot TopicsNature as a mentor
Jay Harman spent 20 years guring out how to reeze a whirlpool in his bath.Most o us might have downed tools ater arriving at this eureka moment,but or Jay it was just the start o a radical redesign o some widely usedtechnologies. Moving air and water around is big business. It is estimated thatpumps, ans and propellers are involved in 40 per cent o the world’s energyuse, meaning that just a 1 per cent increase in eciency represents hugesavings at a time when resources such as energy are under increasing pressure.Freezing the whirlpool allowed Jay and his team at
PAX Scientifc
(a Bay–area company Jay ounded in 1997), to not only gure out the algorithm thatdescribes it, but as it turns out, some general principles that dictate the shapeo fow and movement in Nature – rom the pores in our skin to seashells.Cracking this code was a signicant step – it meant they could start to redesigna range o technologies to move substances like air and water in the same waythat Nature does.One such innovation – the
Lily Impeller
– is a mighty propeller in everythingbut size and in energy use. Measuring just six inches high, the
Lily Impeller
canmove one million gallons o water in just 24 hours using the same energy asa single light bulb. Its predecessor stands at a good 20 eet tall with hal theeciency, and a much greater energy cost. For water treatment plants, it notonly means less energy is used, but that water can be kept resh without theaddition o chlorine.It makes sense to emulate Nature; it’s had 3.8 billion years o experimentationand adaption and is continually evolving the ttest design or cooperatingwith the environment, while being ‘clean, green and sustainable.’ Biomimicry– mimicking Nature’s designs to solve our own design challenges – can beapplied to a whole range o problems rom products to services, systems andthe built environment, and even to organisational behaviour.Biomimicry is certainly not a new concept. Some say it’s modern incarnationbegan in 1941 with Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral, who ater observingseeds o the plant cocklebur stuck to his clothes and dog, was inspired toinvent a new type o astener. In 2008, celebrating its 50
year, his company
Velcro Industries
achieved global sales o $298 million. What is new is thatscience and technology are rapidly changing the scale at which we canunderstand the world, and the types materials that we can create to live moresmartly upon it.
Form: designed or unction
It is clear that biomimicry is gaining momentum, and today’s examples arenumerous. One such innovation is the development o sel–cleaning paints.
Hot Topics is a series o Nesta events driven byideas and technologies.They aim to introducethe technological toolsthat will change how wedo things in the coming years, and are designedto bring together the besto business, academia,start–ups and investors.Find out more at:http://www.nesta.org.uk/ events/hot_topicsThis event brieng wasprepared by Carla Ross.Find out more at: www.nesta.org.uk/ biomimicry#nestahottopicsPrimula veris, stainedsection o primrose stem.Image: Rob Kesseler.
Castilleja fava – seed,rom
 Seeds, time capsulesof life,
Rob Kesseler and Wolgang Stuppy.
Commercially developed recently by
Sto Corp.
, a company based in AtlantaGeorgia, such paints were inspired by how lotus leaves remain spotless withouta bar o soap. The secret lies in the ne microstructure o the lea, whichinduces water to orm tiny beads that roll o the surace taking dirt along withit. Given that we spend a large amount o money keeping things clean, otenwith the use o harsh detergents and chemicals, the development o suchmaterials has a wide range o benets – time, money and the environment.Another recent example is
BAE Systems
’ ‘Bug Eye’ technology. When outin the eld at night, soldiers need the ability to see and have a wide eld ovision. Night vision cameras typically don’t have a wide eld o vision, andcurrent sh eye lenses oten used to solve this problem also distort imagesand are problematic or monitoring and tracking. Alex Partt’s team at
took inspiration rom a 4mm bug – the Xenos peckii – which have 50separate lenses each creating a separate image that are stitched together togive a single, large panoramic view.The team adapted this biology–inspired strategy, using nine lenses – each nobigger than a smart phone camera – and developing sotware to process theseimages in real time. The result is a vision system small and light enough to tinside a soldier’s helmet whilst doubling the eld o vision. Miniaturising thesystem urther could mean that the technology has wider applications – suchas in medicine where a wide eld o vision could enhance keyhole surgery.
The case or biomimicry
An ever growing awareness o biomimicry marks the start o a shit, somesay, rom an industrial model to an ecological one. Advocates suggest thatthe industrial age may have brought us many vital innovations, but it was alsobased on methods and systems o production that we can no longer sustain.Take material production or example. Our current models o production areenergy, resource, and oten chemically intensive. Janine Benyus, who coined theterm biomimicry in the book
Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature
, calls suchmethods o production ‘heat, beat and treat’. This process results in huge amountso waste, during extraction, production and disposal. There is an estimate that 30tonnes o waste are produced per tonne o goods that reach consumers, with 98per cent o goods end up being thrown away within six months.Architect, contributor to the Eden project, and author o
Biomimicry in Architecture
, Michael Pawlyn, cites a compelling example.
, thestrongest synthetic material that we’ve manuactured so ar, is made byboiling petroleum in sulphuric acid at 750°C beore undergoing high–pressuretreatment to rearrange the molecules, leaving behind toxic waste. By contrast,spider silk is stronger than
, made at ambient temperatures, withcommon, non–polluting elements and no waste.Developments in nanotechnology and manuacturing are enabling us to buildmore like Nature does – rom the bottom up, but there is still much to learn indeveloping materials that can be produced at ambient temperatures and stillhave desired properties, such as strength and with very little waste.Indeed, there is very little waste in Nature – everything is part o a closed loopsystem, and advocates claim that this element in Nature is probably the mostcritical to learn i we are to move to creating zero waste systems. Part o thechallenge is seeing waste as a resource and creating benecial waste that hasresource potential.When civil engineer George Chan was tasked with developing a brewery inNamibia, he saw an opportunity to develop a system with as little waste aspossible. The result was not unlike the old woman who swallowed a fy. By thetime beer is brewed and has matured and is ready or bottling, several tons owaste grain and gallons o alkaline water need dealing with, at a high cost tothe manuacturer.In George’s system, rstly the alkaline water is used to grow Spirulina– microalgae that thrive in such conditions and are used as nutritionalsupplements. The now naturally–treated water is then channelled to a laketo arm sh, with the lake giving a means or ltering and recycling ground
water. The letover grains are used or growing mushrooms, as animal eed oror earthworm composting. The earthworms are ed to the chickens, and thechicken manure went to a digester to make gas to power the brewery – in turnusing less wood. The resulting system produces 12 products instead o just oneand seven times more ood, uel and ertilizer with just a smidgen o waste.
Spreading the message
Although there are a plethora o examples o biomimicry today, there is abroad sense that the adoption has been slow. One o the most commonly citedbarriers to adoption o biomimicry is its interdisciplinary nature, particularly atthe proessional level. So how can biomimicry reach critical levels o adoptionthat it almost becomes the deault solution in design?Art and design can play a crucial role in bridging the disciplines, notes visualartist Rob Kesseler, a ormer NESTA–Fellow, and Proessor o Ceramic Art &Design at
Central Saint Martins College o Art & Design
“There’s an awarenessthat common ground is an increasingly important place to be.” 
Perhaps more sonow than ever, design inspiration lies beyond the naked eye. Rob collaborateswith scientists to visualize some o the hidden structures in Nature such aspollen grains. Oten asked how this might benet science, Rob replies that it’sabout exposing the territory in an engaging way:
“Scientists desperately need to get their images out there or communication – communication ollows throughto promotion, which ollows through to unding.” 
Rob also works in design education, to help open biomimetic approaches towider audiences, such as in the eld o textiles – as big consumers o naturalresources and one which
“seeps through into the high–street very quickly and directly.” 
Rob notes that in many ways, technology is helping to acilitatethe shit towards a more multidisciplinary approach at the proessionallevel as designers, artists, and scientists are increasingly sharing the sametechnological platorms – such as in graphic design platorms.Exposure to ideas through routes such as the popular press and the arts, playkey roles i biomimicry is to become widespread and inspire a relatively broadaudience. One good example o this is the recently launched online magazine
, which attempts to bridge the worlds o science, technology and designand bring bio–inspired thinking to a wider audience.
Crossing disciplines
Biology hasn’t traditionally been considered to be an important source oknowledge or designers. When a designer in any proession receives a promptto design something new – be it components, products, buildings, or systems –the rst challenge or biomimicry is then or Nature to be considered as a designsourcebook.Unless a design unction is already organised around looking to Nature or ideas,biomimetic design prompts can oten be a process o serendipity. For example,a chance attendance at a lecture given by an aircrat engineer who describedhow his work was heavily infuenced by birds, inspired Japanese engineer EijiiNakatsu to do the same or trains. Eijii and his team redesigned the
 500–series bullet train, drawing on design principles learned rom kingshersand owls. Ater a our–year eort, the new
train not only travelsaster, but more quietly whilst using 15 per cent less electricity.
Biomimicry 3.8
has been on a mission over the last 15 years. The US–based non–prot organisation is helping biomimicry make the leap rom a chance encounterto a purposeul part o the design process. Biomimicry heavily relies on thedots being joined between the disciplines. The organisation’s mission has beento introduce biomimicry into education at all levels, as well as bring togetherbiologists and engineers at the design table. Other organisational and academicnetworks such as
in the UK and
in Germany have sought toincrease the application o biomimicry too and equip designers with tools to do so.
Rob Kesseler, CentralSaint Martins College o  Art & Design

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