MIMICKING NATURE'S GENIUS - Parish article Nov 17


Strolling along a riverbank in the summer, I was captivated by the sight of a kingfisher waiting patiently to catch dinner.  And I was reminded of how the kingfisher had played a vital role in solving a design challenge on the Japanese transit network!  The so-called "bullet train" had one major flaw - it sounded a terrific "boom" whenever it exited a tunnel, and complaints were coming in from affected nearby residents.  One of the engineers on the team trying to solve the problem was a birdwatcher and had witnessed a kingfisher diving down through the air, going into the water and creating very little splash.  So the team re-modelled the front of the train on the kingfisher's beak - not only did it solve the boom, but saved about 15% energy and made the train 10% faster than before.

Architects, designers, engineers, car manufacturers, communications experts - you name it - are all turning to the natural world to seek inspiration for future design and manufacturing possibilities.  Geckos, termites, leaves, beetles, bees, lotus flowers, mangrove swamps and many, many more are providing the answers!  The healthcare industry, for instance, is  showing great interest in the diamond-shape pattern of shark's skin because it repels bacteria.  MRSA is extremely resistant to antibiotics so perhaps by coating hospital surfaces with a mimicked form of shark skin, the bacteria could be "chased away".

This is called Biomimicry, but it is more than just about copying an idea, it is also about mimicking natural materials, chemical recipes and ecosystem strategies.  Asking such questions as "how does Nature attach on wet surfaces?" or "regulate temperature?" or "manage an excess of water?", we can turn to the natural world which, for the past 4 billion years, has learned what works, what lasts and what is beautiful, for some answers.

Biomimicry brings the time tested wisdom of life to the design table to help us solve everyday problems so we might learn to live in harmony with that which sustains us all.  It's encouraging to see Biomimicry included in Key Stage 3 of the Design and Technology curriculum and one hopes that both current and future students will fully explore its exciting implications for design solutions. Two interesting websites: https://asknature.org and www.bio-uk.org

Trisha Comrie (trishacomrie@gmail.com; 01823 602908), Blackdown Hills Transition