Biomimetrics Mania

Steve Austin. A man barely alive. We can rebuild him. The world's first bionic man. And in 1977, he cost four-times the price tag of today's Bradley fighting vehicle. But, what if the roles were reversed? What if, instead of using mechanical parts to rebuild a man, we used biological intelligence to enable machines and materials to rebuild themselves? Or, more intriguing, enable them to learn how to survive in their changing environment.

A recent Wired magazine post, Ideas Stolen from Nature, addresses such innovations in the realm of biomemtrics (aka biomimicry).

Whether we're looking at the oft-sited example of Swiss engineer George de Mestral invention of Velcro by way of picking burrs of his dog, or the 2005 World Expo's exploration of Nature's Wisdom, the scientific trend of comparing nature to mechanics is being rapidly reversed. We now think of the mechanical in terms of the biological.

Our ability to think and design "biomemetrically" is driven by several factors:

  • the yearly geometric increase in processing power described by Moore's Law,

  • the rapid expansion of netcentric theories and operational practices,

  • our new found nanotechnologies allowing assembly of parts on the molecular, and in some cases, the atomic level.

  • What this means, according to a group funded by the Austrailian Resource Council, is that the creation of distributed sensor networks would use intelligent biomemetric structures, based on nanotechnology. These structures, based on the biology of sea shells, for example, would...

    "in ideal circumstances, integrate all of these characteristics to design and assemble itself at a nano-scale level. Self assembling nano-layers of molecules are an example such technology. A structure might use this ability to compensate for deformations due to external pressures by rebuilding certain areas to maintain overall structural integrity."

    This means that such sensors or machines could be strewn across remote areas with extreme conditions (sub-zero tempatures, raging wildfires, etc.) and survive over time by healing their own wounds.

    Of course, a new scientific field doesn't reach a state of legitimacy until it has its own center named for it.

    The Centre for Biomemtrics in England is dedicated to the theory and application of biomimetrics to social and industrial challenges.

    Another application of the field involvesBiomemtrics Pharmaceuticals. Beyond genetic engineering and patient-specific drugs, self-healing may be the secret to immortality. Biomemtrics and Tissue Engineering takes lessons from lizards and starfish who can regenerate a lost appendages and tries to embed this intelligence in our own bodies.

    This may soon mean a totally radical rethinking of the field of medicine and��thank God��the field of dentistry.

    Biomemtric pharmaceutical applications project not only rebuilding the body through Bone Morphogenetic Proteins (BMPs), but promise Biomimetic Root Canals and Artificial Salivary Glands.

    As a man whose grandfather has already suffered through two total knee replacements, I hope to avoid the bone saw and instead enjoy biomemtric Cartilage and Joint regeneration. Of course, a vast amount of this ability depends upon our access to and use of The Ultimate Stem Cell.


    Photo by Asa Mathat

    Janine Benyus is a life sciences writer and author of six books, including her latest -- Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. In Biomimicry, she names an emerging science that seeks sustainable solutions by mimicking nature's designs and processes (e.g., solar cells that mimic leaves, agriculture that looks like a prairie, business that runs like a redwood forest).

    The Official Biomimicry Site www.biomimicry.orghas a thorough description of the field in an interview with Janine Benyus.

    Benefits of biomemetrics described by

  • Efficient resource utilization through the observation the ability of biological systems to produce superior materials and systems.

  • Miniaturization of materials and systems in order to unveil a host of new applications previously limited by the availability of adequately sized equivalents.

  • Integration of multiple technologies to operate in a cohesive and optimal manner.

  • Smart structures with the ability to autonomously adapt to environmental conditions and display learning capabilities.

  • "Smart by Nature"

    an essay from: Lightness; the inevitable renaissance of minimum energy structures. A Beukers & E v Hinte

    The concept of Smart or Intelligent materials (and systems and structures) has been around for a number of years. A "smart" material (or system or structure - the one word takes all) interacts with its environment, responding to changes in various ways. A simple example is photochromic glass, darkening on exposure to light. In order to be responsive to its environment a material must have structure (for example, the molecular mechanism underlying photochromic glass) and in most instances is a system since it needs a receptor or range of receptors, a central processor which can differentiate between the inputs and integrate them into a single output, and an effector.


    Karolides is working on a prototype of a Biomimicry Database, funded by John Abele's Argosy Foundation. She envisions it ultimately as a "growing, open source, peer reviewed" resource that would link biomimicry concepts to known problems in architecture and building design, along with ready information on who in the public or private sectors is already working on a product or application. It would be a clearinghouse for new scientific discoveries, available for multiple industries to use, promoting more biomimetic successes by making research easily available across disciplines.