For most of my life, I thought that natural 🌱 and man-made 👷♀️ were mutually exclusive.
I was so incredibly wrong.
Biomimicry blew my mind 🤯. To me, the idea that humans had guides with millions of years of experience was remarkable.
Breaking down the word itself, we have “bio” and “mimicry”. Life and copying. That is exactly what biomimicry is; it’s the art of copying the natural world.
The replication of nature is not purely physical, although that is a large subset of biomimicry. We can copy anything that exists in nature, such as social patterns or behavior.
So we know what biomimicry is, but why should we use it? What is the point of copying from nature?
We Have Mentors
Let’s face it, humans are relatively new to this planet. Compared to the billions of years that the Earth has been around, we are just babies 👶.
Modern humans have existed for around 200,000 years. Just as a number, that may seem like a long time. After all, most of us don’t live past 100 years. Insects, however, have been on this planet for over 400 million years 🤯. Bugs, which we look down on and crush under our palms, have spent over two thousand times longer on this planet than we have.
So, how did they survive so long? 🤔
There are many reasons, but overall, they were the best. Countless other organisms were competing for the same space and food as the insects way before we even came close to showing up, but natural selection weeded them out. This holds true for every other species that has stuck around, including humans; we just happen to be one of the more recent additions.
What this means for us is that 🔑we have mentors and guides who have survived for much longer than we have. They’ve adapted to the environment and found a way to contribute positively, and we can learn from that.
Whether or not we end up staying for the long haul (and that means millions of years), we have the opportunity now to learn and give ourselves a better chance of survival ✊. As a species and as individuals, we can improve the quality of life for ourselves, each other, and future generations.
How to Adapt Biomimicry
Now that we have reason to use biomimicry, how do we do it? How can we each imitate nature?
Walk along the four steps with Dr. Frank E. Fish, who was inspired by humpback whales to create “energy efficient rotating devices”.
Step 1: Appreciation 😲
To implement biomimicry, we first need to appreciate nature; give credit where credit’s due. Simple bacteria eventually gave rise to complex ecosystems, each of which is special and unique. Each species carved out its own place, adding diversity and changing the ecosystem.
Together, the organisms that came before us built the world into what we live in today. Be thankful for that. See and appreciate the big world and the little things 🌸
Dr. Fish is a biology professor at Westchester University, and has been since 1980. After such a long time in the department, it is easy to believe that he loves and appreciates nature.
Step 2: Observation 👀
The next action we need to take is to observe nature at all levels. Every day, notice one thing about nature that you haven’t before. Rather than just thinking, “Nature is pretty,” and moving on, focus on one specific thing. It can be anywhere from the overarching biosphere to the strength of an ant 🐜
Dr. Fish’s observation was not found in nature, but in a store when looking for a gift. He saw a sculpture of a humpback whale and thought that the sculptor had put the bumps on the wrong side of the flipper 🤦♀️. He was corrected by the shopkeeper, which made him start to wonder why they were placed the way they were.
Step 3: Learn 📖
Following that, we need to learn from nature. You can appreciate nature and notice something about it but still learn absolutely nothing from it if you don’t stop and think.
Take what you noticed and run with it. For details, how does that specific characteristic contribute to the survival of the organism. For the big picture, how does everything work together? You could also make up your own questions. Don’t be limited by anything.
Coming directly off his observation of the humpback whale’s flippers, Dr. Fish started to do research 📚. He studied flow of both air and water, as well as the humpback whale itself, eventually discovering a new form of fluid flow management: the tubercle effect.
Step 4: Implementation 📥
Lastly, implement it into your own designs. Noticing and learning one fact a day from nature will give you lots of options to choose from. People have found inspiration in the most obscure things, but what they did with it had a large impact.
Dr. Fish used his discovery to create rotating devices used in many different fans. He started the company Whalepower Corporation using these designs.
Another example of implementation is Japan’s bullet train, which was creating a sonic boom when it was coming out of tunnels. To solve this problem, they turned to nature, specifically birds. They found a Kingfisher (Alcedinidae), which dives into water to hunt without a splash. By copying the beak design, the train runs faster, with less energy, and without the sonic boom. 🥳
Hospitals have long had the problem of patients picking up bacteria not from their homes, but from the hospital itself. To combat this, hospital walls have been redesigned based on shark skin to make it hard for bacteria to even land on them 🎉. Without bacteria on the walls, less patients get infected in the hospital.
Yes, Even You! 🦸♀️
You might think you aren’t a designer or engineer, and therefore can’t mimic nature in any meaningful way, but not all that nature has to teach us exists as physical objects. The species here today wouldn’t have stuck around if they hadn’t had good behavioral habits that we can learn from.
Orca pods are an incredible example of teamwork. When hunting, they work together to find, trap, and catch their prey. Although most people don’t hunt, we can copy the orca’s organization and communication in practically any group work.
- Biomimicry is the art of copying nature 🌱
- We have mentors who have been around for far longer than us 🦟
- There are four steps in biomimicry: appreciation 😲, observation 👀, learning 📖, and implementation 📥
- Everyone can use biomimicry, not only designers 🦸♀️
Resources to Learn More
Geckos and Adhesion
Everyone knows geckos, the lizards that cling to ceilings. Many are fascinated by the way they defy gravity. Most…