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Biomimicry is an approach in different branches of science that uses the solutions that nature provides to overcome problems in various scientific and daily challenges of human lives. This approach, although not new, was extensively developed and promoted by Janine Benyus, a writer and co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute. The main idea or aim of biomimicry is that nature is able to provide humanity with brilliant solutions that can and need to be used (Benyus 4). In her book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, the author explores how humanity can use “simple compounds to produce totally biodegradable fibers, ceramics, plastics, and chemicals” (Benyus 5). As the author argues, nature is able to provide models for various branches, including engineering, computing, medicine, and others. Biomimicry rediscovers the breakthroughs made by nature and how these approaches can be applied to the modern world.
Janine Benyus has earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry; as she states, she enrolled in courses that covered wildlife, tree growth, water, and more. (6). She claims that the human-centered approach is something that needs to be left behind, and nature is able to provide humanity with experience that it has ignored for a long time. The question arises: Does humanity indeed need to pay attention to nature’s tools if it has recourse to modern technology? However, many of the inventions created by humans already have a presence in the world (Lee and Thompson 8). The Earth can be considered as the ultimate lab for a nature that has been conducting experiments for approximately 3.8 billion years, and biomimicry suggests that nature can be used innovatively in human projects in a variety of ways.
As Janine Benyus continued to explore this newly founded science, she was surprised to find no formal movement in place per se that would study how nature’s inventions can help humanity. However, today biomimicry is used in different branches of knowledge and industry, from medicine to architecture. The reason why biomimicry has become so popular and effective is not only that it copies nature but also because it gives its inventions function. Therefore, biomimicry is not the process of copying but rather that of re-inventing.
The Biomimicry Institute
The Biomimicry Institute was founded in 2006 in the United States. Today, it works with museums, educational institutions, universities, and zoos to encourage education about biomimicry and ensure that this science will be used by future generations as well.
Like nature, a free catalog that provides information about nature-inspired designs was launched in 2008. Several for-profit organizations were established by the founders of the Biomimicry Institute as well, namely Biomimicry 3.8. The institute encourages the implementation of biomimicry solutions in business and technology. According to the founders, biomimicry is profitable both to humanity and to the Earth (Benyus 8). The institute also organizes a Biomimicry Global Design Challenge that involves students, professors, and scientists from all over the world who provide solutions to sustainability problems using examples from nature.
Biomimicry and Sustainability
As the human need for change and inventions has grown, so has the harm that humanity has caused to nature. The principle of sustainability not only focuses on the sustainable environment that can be developed but also on the connection between the environment, economics, politics, and culture. The concept of sustainability arose when companies and governments began to evaluate the social and environmental cost that businesses have brought; before that time, only the profitability of the business had mattered (McKinnon and Whiteing 3). It can be said that sustainability is something of an ethical concept; nevertheless, public policies are preferring to focus on it more often as the problem of climate change and its adverse impact on the planet raises even more concerns.
While sustainability seeks for environmentally friendly and lasting projects, biomimicry provides innovation and concepts that can be used as a guide during such a project. One of the most famous and prominent examples of biomimicry and sustainability use is the development of Shinkansen high-speed trains. These trains need to enter tunnels at an extremely high rate of speed and not destroy the homes located nearby with the resulting sonic boom. Due to air compression, it was impossible to avoid disruption. However, one of the engineers provided an idea inspired by a small bird, the kingfisher; this bird can enter the water at high speed in complete silence (Earls 48). The trains’ design was reviewed; their “noses” were enlarged and made to look somewhat similar to the kingfisher’s beak. The trains have become a prominent example of a sustainable project that was inspired by nature: They did not cause any disruption, and their speed has increased due to the new design.
Sustainability tools are classified according to their options, and some authors believe that biomimicry can be considered as one of these tools: First, the tools provide specific ideas or guides about the design; second, they set priorities and focus on objectives of the project; and third, they measure whether the objectives were met (Cohen and Reich 13). Therefore, biomimicry can be seen as a tool from the first category that provides sustainability in design ideas.
Another project that has won attention from scientists and media is the sharkskin-inspired swimsuit used during the 2008 Olympic Games. As friction with water impacts the speed of the swimmers, their swimsuits needed to be redesigned to address the problem. The texture of shark skin is unique in its hydrodynamic features that allow sharks to develop high speed. Scientists have not only designed the suits according to this principle but have also used a 3D printer to make the suits as similar to shark skin as possible. Nevertheless, these suits are nowadays banned from major competitions due to their unique features.
Some models of wetsuits for surfers were inspired by beavers’ fur that is able to keep the animals warm and dry when swimming in icy waters. Nevertheless, not only sports or transport industries use biomimicry for the implementation of successful projects. Architecture has also used some ideas inspired by nature, although many of them are still in progress: Tobias Becker presented a new technology called “breathing skin” that will allow buildings to “breathe” almost as living creatures do. The walls will adjust to conditions, controlling the light, the flow of matter, and the temperature inside and outside (Asknature). One hundred forty air channels on every square meter of walls with this design will allow the building to filter the air inside the building.
Biomimicry has the potential to completely change our future and the buildings that humanity will inhabit because today, more architects are trying to follow the concepts of biomimicry in their projects. Michelle Oyen, a bioengineer, aims to resolve the problem of climate change and the sustainability of cities by copying nature. She is trying to replicate and use the characteristics of bones that, in the future, could be utilized instead of concrete (Asknature). Not only can bones be more sustainable than concrete, but they can also be produced at room temperature, while concrete needs a thousand degrees. The production of concrete also has an adverse impact on the atmosphere, as it is responsible for approximately ten percent of all carbon dioxide emissions (Asknature). Therefore, future skyscrapers and high rises could be made of artificial bones if this project is proven efficient.
Biomimicry and Environment
The connection between biomimicry and environment is evident, as biomimicry suggests using solutions that are environmentally friendly. However, it also stresses that new technologies should not fight against the environment and climate but rather use them as advantages. Thus, the environment of the area will not have to endure the severe impact of human technologies, and the project will cost less due to the fact that it is adjustable to the climate.
What I find most exciting about this approach to the environment is that humanity will still invent fantastic technologies that will boost the development of cities and facilities, but at the same time, nature will remain unharmed. Recent technologies that are used at construction sites and in architecture amaze me, too, but it is not wise to neglect the issues and problems that these technologies cause. At last, nature-inspired technologies look better and more interesting due to their similarity to nature. For example, buildings projected by the Bureau Zaha Hadid Architects look like pictures from science fiction books.
Although some of the major cities are interested in “green architecture” and would like to provide their citizens with environmentally friendly facilities and infrastructure, emulation of ecosystems is still normally avoided by them. However, this is yet another perfect example of a “natural approach” that can help cities efficiently overcome the problems of traffic, pollution, density, and others. Even natural catastrophes and their consequences can be used in such ecosystems, creating energy and supplying a city with water during floods or handling stormwater.
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Biomimicry can also help the citizens see their homes or neighborhoods as nested systems, which will encourage teamwork and collaboration. Therefore, the projects will be not only eco-friendly but also human-friendly, allowing us to work on problems and solutions together.
As humanity tries to fight and prepare for natural catastrophes, it would be useful to understand how plants and animals are adapting to survive possible disasters. Biomimicry can provide some ideas about buildings that will be resistant to earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods. Diversity and variation are definitions that allow adjustment, and they could be used in future architectural projects (Asknature).
Biomimicry and the Future
The problem of climate change has been widely addressed by scientists, the media, celebrities, politicians, and intellectuals of late. If we continue to ignore the issues that our technologies have caused, we are in danger of destroying the future and leaving the coming generations without resources and supplies. However, biomimicry can help us create the kind of technologies that will recycle all waste and consume resources wisely. The energy industry needs to be reformed to become more “green” and eco-friendly; here, the solutions provided by the Biomimicry Institute and biomimicry could reduce the impact of generated waste and give humanity an opportunity to explore other ways to create energy. Although industries are not always willing to adapt to changes and become more resilient, the time has come to review the approaches that we have used to gain resources.
I also believe that another view of resources would possibly help to reduce the number of armed conflicts that often begin because of human greed. We have already destroyed many rainforests and animal species; even the Great Barrier Reef is in danger. However, nature rarely overuses some of its sources and normally does not exhaust the resources that are available. Therefore, humanity needs to learn how to use nature without killing it. Furthermore, strategies that will help us avoid the extermination of species do not need to be invented, as they are often already present; we just need to reframe them. Although some of the strategies that major industries use are considered to be rational, they can also be dangerous and unprofitable in their long-term consequences. The problem of waste has been partially solved as some industries turn it into input for other industries. This does not mean, however, that all industry professionals have agreed to follow the concepts that biomimicry is able to provide. That is why we need to redefine both technological strategies and humanity’s view of nature as a horn of plenty.
Biomimicry is a science that can help humanity find nature-inspired solutions and rebuild cities as ecosystems. It is linked both to the concept of sustainability and to the environment; this collaboration helps create new technologies that adjust to existing conditions and bring less harm to the environment of an area. Architecture often uses biomimicry to present innovative designs and implement the concepts of diversity and variety.
Asknature. Biological Strategies, 2016, Web.
Benyus, Janine M. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Harper Collins, 2009.
Cohen, Yael Helfman, and Yoram Reich. Biomimetic Design Method for Innovation and Sustainability. Springer, 2016.
Earls, Mark. Copy, Copy, Copy: How to Do Smarter Marketing by Using Other People’s Ideas. John Wiley & Sons, 2015.
Lee, Dora, and Margot Thompson. Biomimicry: Inventions Inspired by Nature. Kids Can Press Ltd, 2011.
McKinnon, Alan, and Anthony Whiteing. Green Logistics: Improving the Environmental Sustainability of Logistics. Kogan Page Publishers, 2015.