Biomimetics or biomimicry is the emulation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex
Living organisms have
One of the early examples of biomimicry was the study of
During the 1950s the American
Biophysics is not so much a subject matter as it is a point of view. It is an approach to problems of biological science utilizing the theory and technology of the physical sciences. Conversely, biophysics is also a biologist's approach to problems of physical science and engineering, although this aspect has largely been neglected.— Otto Herbert Schmitt, In Appreciation, A Lifetime of Connections
In 1960 Jack E. Steele coined a similar term, bionics, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where Otto Schmitt also worked. Steele defined bionics as "the science of systems which have some function copied from nature, or which represent characteristics of natural systems or their analogues". During a later meeting in 1963 Schmitt stated,
Let us consider what bionics has come to mean operationally and what it or some word like it (I prefer biomimetics) ought to mean in order to make good use of the technical skills of scientists specializing, or rather, I should say, despecializing into this area of research.— Otto Herbert Schmitt, In Appreciation, A Lifetime of Connections: Otto Herbert Schmitt, 1913 - 1998
In 1969, Schmitt used the term "biomimetic" in the title one of his papers, and by 1974 it had found its way into Webster's Dictionary. Bionics entered the same dictionary earlier in 1960 as "a science concerned with the application of data about the functioning of biological systems to the solution of engineering problems". Bionic took on a different connotation when Martin Caidin referenced Jack Steele and his work in the novel Cyborg which later resulted in the 1974 television series The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin-offs. The term bionic then became associated with "the use of electronically operated artificial body parts" and "having ordinary human powers increased by or as if by the aid of such devices". Because the term bionic took on the implication of supernatural strength, the scientific community in English speaking countries largely abandoned it.
The term biomimicry appeared as early as 1982. Biomimicry was popularized by scientist and author Janine Benyus in her 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Biomimicry is defined in the book as a "new science that studies nature's models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems". Benyus suggests looking to Nature as a "Model, Measure, and Mentor" and emphasizes sustainability as an objective of biomimicry.
One of the latest examples of biomimicry has been created by Johannes-Paul Fladerer and Ernst Kurzmann by the description of "managemANT". This term (a combination of the words "management" and "ant"), describes the usage of behavioural strategies of ants in economic and management strategies.
Biomimetics could in principle be applied in many fields. Because of the diversity and complexity of biological systems, the number of features that might be imitated is large. Biomimetic applications are at various stages of development from technologies that might become commercially usable to prototypes. Murray's law, which in conventional form determined the optimum diameter of blood vessels, has been re-derived to provide simple equations for the pipe or tube diameter which gives a minimum mass engineering system.
Biorobots based on the physiology and methods of locomotion of animals include BionicKangaroo which moves like a kangaroo, saving energy from one jump and transferring it to its next jump. Kamigami Robots, a children's toy, mimic cockroach locomotion to run quickly and efficiently over indoor and outdoor surfaces.
Living beings have adapted to a constantly changing environment during evolution through mutation, recombination, and selection. The core idea of the biomimetic philosophy is that nature's inhabitants including animals, plants, and microbes have the most experience in solving problems and have already found the most appropriate ways to last on planet Earth. Similarly, biomimetic architecture seeks solutions for building sustainability present in nature.
The 21st century has seen a ubiquitous waste of energy due to inefficient building designs, in addition to the over-utilization of energy during the operational phase of its life cycle. In parallel, recent advancements in fabrication techniques, computational imaging, and simulation tools have opened up new possibilities to mimic nature across different architectural scales. As a result, there has been a rapid growth in devising innovative design approaches and solutions to counter energy problems. Biomimetic architecture is one of these multi-disciplinary approaches to sustainable design that follows a set of principles rather than stylistic codes, going beyond using nature as inspiration for the aesthetic components of built form but instead seeking to use nature to solve problems of the building's functioning and saving energy.
The term biomimetic architecture refers to the study and application of construction principles which are found in natural environments and species, and are translated into the design of sustainable solutions for architecture. Biomimetic architecture uses nature as a model, measure and mentor for providing architectural solutions across scales, which are inspired by natural organisms that have solved similar problems in nature. Using nature as a measure refers to using an ecological standard of measuring sustainability, and efficiency of man-made innovations, while the term mentor refers to learning from natural principles and using biology as an inspirational source.
Biomorphic architecture, also referred to as bio-decoration, on the other hand, refers to the use of formal and geometric elements found in nature, as a source of inspiration for aesthetic properties in designed architecture, and may not necessarily have non-physical, or economic functions. A historic example of biomorphic architecture dates back to Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures, using tree and plant forms in the ornamentation of structural columns.
Within biomimetic architecture, two basic procedures can be identified, namely, the bottom-up approach (biology push) and top-down approach (technology pull). The boundary between the two approaches is blurry with the possibility of transition between the two, depending on each individual case. Biomimetic architecture is typically carried out in interdisciplinary teams in which biologists and other natural scientists work in collaboration with engineers, material scientists, architects, designers, mathematicians and computer scientists.
In the bottom-up approach, the starting point is a new result from basic biological research promising for biomimetic implementation. For example, developing a biomimetic material system after the quantitative analysis of the mechanical, physical, and chemical properties of a biological system.
In the top-down approach, biomimetic innovations are sought for already existing developments that have been successfully established on the market. The cooperation focuses on the improvement or further development of an existing product.
Researchers studied the
Researchers in the Sapienza University of Rome were inspired by the natural ventilation in termite mounds and designed a double façade that significantly cuts down over lit areas in a building. Scientists have imitated the porous nature of mound walls by designing a facade with double panels that was able to reduce heat gained by radiation and increase heat loss by convection in cavity between the two panels. The overall cooling load on the building's energy consumption was reduced by 15%.
A similar inspiration was drawn from the porous walls of termite mounds to design a naturally ventilated façade with a small ventilation gap. This design of façade is able to induce air flow due to the Venturi effect and continuously circulates rising air in the ventilation slot. Significant transfer of heat between the building's external wall surface and the air flowing over it was observed. The design is coupled with greening of the façade. Green wall facilitates additional natural cooling via evaporation, respiration and transpiration in plants. The damp plant substrate further support the cooling effect.
Scientists in Shanghai University were able to replicate the complex microstructure of clay-made conduit network in the mound to mimic the excellent humidity control in mounds. They proposed a porous humidity control material (HCM) using Sepiolite and calcium chloride with water vapor adsorption-desorption content at 550 grams per meter squared. Calcium chloride is a desiccant and improves the water vapor adsorption-desorption property of the Bio-HCM. The proposed bio-HCM has a regime of interfiber mesopores which acts as a mini reservoir. The flexural strength of the proposed material was estimated to be 10.3 MPa using computational simulations.
In structural engineering, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (
Analysis of the elastic deformation happening when a pollinator lands on the sheath-like perch part of the flower Strelitzia reginae (known as bird-of-paradise flower) has inspired architects and scientists from the University of Freiburg and University of Stuttgart to create hingeless shading systems that can react to their environment. These bio-inspired products are sold under the name Flectofin.
Other hingeless bioinspired systems include Flectofold. Flectofold has been inspired from the trapping system developed by the carnivorous plant Aldrovanda vesiculosa.
There is a great need for new structural materials that are light weight but offer exceptional combinations of stiffness, strength, and toughness.
Such materials would need to be manufactured into bulk materials with complex shapes at high volume and low cost and would serve a variety of fields such as construction, transportation, energy storage and conversion.
Nacre exhibits similar mechanical properties however with rather simpler structure. Nacre shows a brick and mortar like structure with thick mineral layer (0.2-0.9 μm) of closely packed aragonite structures and thin organic matrix (~20 nm). While thin films and micrometer sized samples that mimic these structures are already produced, successful production of bulk biomimetic structural materials is yet to be realized. However, numerous processing techniques have been proposed for producing nacre like materials.
Biomorphic mineralization is a technique that produces materials with morphologies and structures resembling those of natural living organisms by using bio-structures as templates for mineralization. Compared to other methods of material production, biomorphic mineralization is facile, environmentally benign and economic.
Freeze casting (Ice templating), an inexpensive method to mimic natural layered structures was employed by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to create alumina-Al-Si and IT HAP-epoxy layered composites that match the mechanical properties of bone with an equivalent mineral/ organic content. Various further studies also employed similar methods to produce high strength and high toughness composites involving a variety of constituent phases.
Recent studies demonstrated production of cohesive and self supporting macroscopic tissue constructs that mimic living tissues by printing tens of thousands of heterologous picoliter droplets in software-defined, 3D millimeter-scale geometries. Efforts are also taken up to mimic the design of nacre in artificial composite materials using fused deposition modelling and the helicoidal structures of stomatopod clubs in the fabrication of high performance carbon fiber-epoxy composites.
Various established and novel additive manufacturing technologies like PolyJet printing, direct ink writing, 3D magnetic printing, multi-material magnetically assisted 3D printing and magnetically-assisted
New ceramics that exhibit giant electret hysteresis have also been realized.
In some biological systems, self-healing occurs via chemical releases at the site of fracture, which initiate a systemic response to transport repairing agents to the fracture site. This promotes autonomic healing. To demonstrate the use of micro-vascular networks for autonomic healing, researchers developed a microvascular coating–substrate architecture that mimics human skin. Bio-inspired self-healing structural color hydrogels that maintain the stability of an inverse opal structure and its resultant structural colors were developed. A self-repairing membrane inspired by rapid self-sealing processes in plants was developed for inflatable lightweight structures such as rubber boats or Tensairity constructions. The researchers applied a thin soft cellular polyurethane foam coating on the inside of a fabric substrate, which closes the crack if the membrane is punctured with a spike. Self-healing materials, polymers and composite materials capable of mending cracks have been produced based on biological materials.
The self-healing properties may also be achieved by the breaking and reforming of hydrogen bonds upon cyclical stress of the material.
Some amphibians, such as tree and torrent frogs and arboreal salamanders, are able to attach to and move over wet or even flooded environments without falling. This kind of organisms have toe pads which are permanently wetted by mucus secreted from glands that open into the channels between epidermal cells. They attach to mating surfaces by wet adhesion and they are capable of climbing on wet rocks even when water is flowing over the surface. Tire treads have also been inspired by the toe pads of tree frogs. 3D printed hierarchical surface models, inspired from tree and torrent frogs toe pad design, have been observed to produce better wet traction than conventional tire design.
Leg attachment pads of several animals, including many insects (e.g. beetles and flies), spiders and lizards (e.g. geckos), are capable of attaching to a variety of surfaces and are used for locomotion, even on vertical walls or across ceilings. Attachment systems in these organisms have similar structures at their terminal elements of contact, known as setae. Such biological examples have offered inspiration in order to produce climbing robots, boots and tape. Synthetic setae have also been developed for the production of dry adhesives.
Biomimetic materials are gaining increasing attention in the field of optics and photonics. There are still little known bioinspired or biomimetic products involving the photonic properties of plants or animals. However, understanding how nature designed such optical materials from biological resources is a current field of research.
Inspiration from fruits and plants
One source of Biomimetic inspiration is from plants. Plants have proven to be concept generations for the following functions; re(action)-coupling, self (adaptability), self-repair, and energy-autonomy. As plants do not have a centralized decision making unit (i.e. a brain), most plants have a decentralized autonomous system in various organs and tissues of the plant. Therefore, they react to multiple stimulus such as light, heat, and humidity.
One example, is the carnivores planet species the Dionaea Muscipula, Venus flytrap. For the last 25 years, there has been research focus on the motion principles of the plant to develop AVFT (artificial Venus flytrap robots). Through the movement during prey capture, the plant inspired soft robotic motion systems. The fast snap buckling (within 100-300 ms) of the trap closure movement is initiated when prey triggers the hairs of the plant within a certain time (twice within 20 s). AVFT systems exist, in which the trap closure movements are actuated via magnetism, electricity, pressurized air, and temperature changes.
Another example of mimicking plants, is the
The fruit of Elaeocarpus angustifolius also show structural colour that come arises from the presence of specialised cells called iridosomes which have layered structures. Similar iridosomes have also been found in Delarbrea michieana fruits.
In plants, multi layer structures can be found either at the surface of the leaves (on top of the epidermis), such as in Selaginella willdenowii or within specialized intra-cellular organelles, the so-called iridoplasts, which are located inside the cells of the upper epidermis. For instance, the rain forest plants Begonia pavonina have iridoplasts located inside the epidermal cells.
Structural colours have also been found in several algae, such as in the red alga Chondrus crispus (Irish Moss).
Inspiration from animals
Canon Inc.'s SubWavelength structure Coating uses wedge-shaped structures the size of the wavelength of visible light. The wedge-shaped structures cause a continuously changing refractive index as light travels through the coating, significantly reducing lens flare. This imitates the structure of a moth's eye. Notable figures such as the Wright Brothers and Leonardo da Vinci attempted to replicate the flight observed in birds. In an effort to reduce aircraft noise researchers have looked to the leading edge of owl feathers, which have an array of small finlets or rachis adapted to disperse aerodynamic pressure and provide nearly silent flight to the bird.
Permaculture is a set of design principles centered around whole systems thinking, simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems. It uses these principles in a growing number of fields from regenerative agriculture, rewilding, community, and organizational design and development.
Some air conditioning systems use biomimicry in their fans to increase airflow while reducing power consumption.
Protein folding has been used to control material formation for self-assembled functional nanostructures. Polar bear fur has inspired the design of thermal collectors and clothing. The light refractive properties of the moth's eye has been studied to reduce the reflectivity of solar panels.