Sunday, November 30, 2008

“How Would A Butterfly Inspire Your Next Design?”


“Imagine if buildings were as self-sufficient as living organisms,” says Stacy Malkan with the Biomimicry Institute. “If they could gather water, filter air, and adapt to local climate conditions. Imagine if the natural world could teach us everything we need to know about sustainable, efficient design.” Imagine…

Well, Janine Benyus (founder of the Biomimicry Institute) imagined and she came up with the new word, Biomimicry. Biomimicry, which I recently covered, is the science of innovation based on nature’s “intelligence” or as Joel Makower eloquently said, “a design discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies.”

The Biomimicry Institute recently teamed up with Autodesk to launch AskNature.org, a cool database of “Nature-Inspired Design Strategies”. See my article in Suite 101 for details of the launch.

AskNature.org is a useful resource for a growing community of professionals researching and applying the principles of biomimicry. These are solutions that nature has devised and “tested” over millions of years.

“Remember Velcro?” asks Bridgette Stephan of Inhabitat. “George de Mestral, a swiss engineer, created Velcro after going on a hike with his dog in the Alps and coming home covered in burs. He fashioned velcro after how the burs had hooks on them and could catch on anything with a loop.” Designers and architects are currently using design principles from Nature to create elegant solutions to every day pressing problems.

For instance, on the topic of self-cleaning: “the wings of many large-winged insects such as butterflies and many plant surfaces remain dirt-free without chemical detergents or expending energy, simply by how their complex surface topography interacts with the physics of water molecules. Lotusan® exterior coating uses these same micro-structural principles to regain its cleanliness automatically after the mere rinse of a rain shower” (AskNature.org).

AskNature.org invites you to pose a query starting with “How would nature…” You add a verb, keyword, or short phrase and—BINGO! You have a wonderful selection of answers.

The database is still in its trial, "beta" phase, and they need to get the bugs out of the system yet. When I tried to input my question, I got an error message. But don’t let that stop you! Here’s what Joel Makower got when he typed in: "How would nature adhere". He received 11 responses, “each related to some "critter" — an insect, microbe, plant, animal, or other living thing tracked by the database.”

First there was the aphid, whose feet adhere to surfaces using "capillary adhesion," a process that also helps a tree frog glue himself vertically on your window. More clicks reveal potential products and application ideas, like: "Using capillary action to create nano-scale molds, cosmetics, and sunscreens that are not absorbed through the skin." There are also clickable references for deeper dives.

Then there was the cuttlefish, whose eggs adhere in seawater due to a gelatinous layer, offering potential for sealants for ships and wave energy structures; the Australian mistletoe, whose sticky berries could be models for adhesives used in pre-fabricated building products or furniture, or bonding applications for electronics; and mammals, whose white blood cells adhere tightly to target cells by increasing their surface area using arm-like projections and shape deformation, a process that "could be mimicked for any use that requires a close contact with a surface or adhesion."

And so on… Cool stuff... Keep your eye on this ever-growing dynamic and extremely helpful resource.




Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.

6 comments:

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Buildings are organisms in a way, I think. They have lifespans, have to be maintained properly, otherwise they decay.

SF Girl said...

So, right, Jean-Luc...Imagine if they were living, breathing materials, self-maintaining through AI... so, far, a lot of this is in the realm of science fiction, but it's just around the corner. I touch on this in several of my books (e.g., Collision with Paradise and Splintered Universe Trilogy)... Fascinating stuff!

blackburn1 said...

I've recently seen building designs incorporating greenery into their levels to explore the concept of vertical farming in urban environments. It's intriguing, and reminds me of the semi-apocalyptic cityscapes from various stories (such as Legend) where vegetation and trees have reclaimed the buildings and streets.

I hope Biomimicry and the theories being explored continue to develop. Great find!

SF Girl said...

It certainly is fascinating and exciting. I remember talking to Janine Benyus so many years ago, shortly after her book had come out... We traded wild thoughts of cities transformed. It is truly exciting to see industry embracing Nature's designs and flying with it. Did you read my short story, "Julia's Gift" by the way? It touches upon themes along this concept ... though in a strange way... :) It's among my short stories featured on the right side-bar...

Are Aliens Real? said...

butterflies are so amazing! The creativity and individuality is awesome.

SF Girl said...

They are gorgeous creatures, aren't they? No two alike and so beautiful...