Biomimicry or biomimetics is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. The terms biomimicry and biomimetics come from the Greek words bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate. A closely related field is bionics.
Over the last 3.6 billion years, nature has gone through a process of trial and error to refine the living organisms, processes, and materials on Earth. The emerging field of biomimetics has given rise to new technologies created from biologically inspired engineering at both the macro scale and nanoscale levels. Biomimetics is not a new idea. Humans have been looking at nature for answers to both complex and simple problems throughout our existence. Nature has solved many of today’s engineering problems such as self-healing abilities, environmental exposure tolerance and resistance, hydrophobicity, self-assembly, and harnessing solar energy through the evolutionary mechanics of selective advantages.
Researchers studied the termite’s ability to maintain virtually constant temperature and humidity in their termite mounds in Africa despite outside temperatures that vary from 1.5 °C to 40 °C (35 °F to 104 °F). Researchers initially scanned a termite mound and created 3-D images of the mound structure, which revealed construction that can influence human building design. The Eastgate Centre, a mid-rise office complex in Harare, Zimbabwe, stays cool without air conditioning and uses only 10% of the energy of a conventional building its size.
Modeling echolocation in bats in darkness has led to a cane for the visually impaired. Research at the University of Leeds, in the United Kingdom, led to the UltraCane, a product formerly manufactured, marketed and sold by Sound Foresight Ltd.
Janine Benyus refers in her books to spiders that create web silk as strong as the Kevlar used in bulletproof vests. Engineers could use such a material—if it had a long enough rate of decay—for parachute lines, suspension bridge cables, artificial ligaments for medicine, and other purposes.
Other research has proposed adhesive glue from mussels, solar cells made like leaves, fabric that emulates shark skin, harvesting water from fog like a beetle, and more. Nature’s 100 Best is a compilation of the top hundred different innovations of animals, plants, and other organisms that have been researched and studied by the Biomimicry Institute.
A display technology based on the reflective properties of certain morpho butterflies was commercialized by Qualcomm in 2007. The technology uses Interferometric Modulation to reflect light so only the desired color is visible in each individual pixel of the display.
Biomimicry may also provide design methodologies and techniques to optimize engineering products and systems. An example is the re-derivation of Murray’s law, which in conventional form determined the optimum diameter of blood vessels, to provide simple equations for the pipe or tube diameter which gives a minimum mass engineering system.
In structural engineering, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) has incorporated biomimetic characteristics in an adaptive deployable “tensegrity” bridge. The bridge can carry out self-diagnosis and self-repair.
The extremely tough and mechanically versatile insect cuticle, inspired the scientists from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, who developed the Shrilk family of biomimetic plastics, based in the components and design of the insect skin.
The Bombardier beetle’s powerful repellent spray inspired a Swedish company to develop a “micro mist” spray technology, which is claimed to have a low carbon impact (compared to aerosol sprays). The beetle mixes chemicals and releases its spray via a steerable nozzle at the end of its abdomen, stinging and confusing the victim.
Holistic planned grazing, using fencing and/or herders, seeks to restore grasslands by carefully planning movements of large herds of livestock to mimic the vast herds found in nature where grazing animals are kept concentrated by pack predators and must move on after eating, trampling, and manuring an area, returning only after it has fully recovered. Developed by Allan Savory, this method of biomimetic grazing holds tremendous potential in building soil, increasing biodiversity, reversing desertification, and mitigating global warming, similar to what occurred during the past 40 million years as the expansion of grass-grazer ecosystems built deep grassland soils, sequestering carbon and cooling the planet.