Learning from Nature
New Crown English Series 3 (2021) pg. 126-129
Have you ever thought of flying like a bird? Many people have, including Leonardo da Vinci. He observed birds very carefully and made designs for flying machines that mimicked the actions of birds' wings. His designs did not work, but they inspired others. His designs were also early instances of getting ideas from nature and using the ideas to create new products and technologies. This academic field is called biomimetics. The following examples will clarify the methods and uses of biomimetics. Look around you. One of you might be using a biomimetic product — the hook-and-loop fasteners on your wallet, shoes, or bag.
The idea for these fasteners came to a Swiss engineer. He took a walk through some woods with his dog. Burs were sticking to his clothing and the dog's fur. It was difficult to remove the burs. He looked at one more closely. There were hundreds of small hooks on it. The hooks easily caught onto loops of clothing, animal fur, and other things. By closely observing nature, the engineer got the idea for a new product that you can use easily. You may know another biomimetic success: the Shinkansen. Before the 1990s, the Shinkansen had a problem with the air resistance in tunnels. Trains entered the narrow tunnels at high speed. This created air pressure inside the tunnel. When the train rushed out of the tunnel, it pushed the air ahead of it. The sudden change in pressure resulted in a loud noise which annoyed people almost half-a-kilometer away. The train company made a team to solve the problem. The team decided to slow down the trains before they went into the tunnels. This reduced the noise, but it increased the time.
Then an engineer on the team said to himself, "We can do better than this. Is there a way to manage sudden changes in pressure?" He found an idea in the design of a bird, the kingfisher. This bird has a long, pointy beak. Because of the beak's shape, the bird can dive smoothly into water without much of a splash or noise. Engineers tested a train design that imitated the kingfisher's beak. It worked. The design reduced air pressure in the tunnel. This lowered the noise trains made. In addition, trains could go faster and save energy due to the new design. This biomimetic design produced good results for travelers, people living nearby, and the company.
As all living things have evolved, they developed specific adaptations to their environments. Burs stick to people and animals to spread the plant's seeds. With its long beak, a kingfisher can dive smoothly into water and catch fish. These and other ideas from nature have inspired humans in many ways: in engineering, in design, in art, and in life. The wisdom of nature broadens our mind and helps us improve our lives.