Ever wished you could scale the walls like a common gecko or swim faster like a shark? Well, all these are ideas that have taken shape in the form of wall-scaling robots and shark suit Speedos that are designed after the scales of the shark to reduce friction. Evolution has made such fantastic changes to the structure of beings that all the answers are available around us.
Scientists are no longer just making accidental discoveries and inventions. They are actively observing the world for inspirations to create sustainable solutions, which will make life a tad bit simpler for us. A Greek word, ‘biomimetics’ simply means having an aptitude for mimicry. This term was coined by American biophysicist, inventor and engineer Otto Schmitt in the 1950s. Also known as biomimicry, scientists in this field mimic structures, designs and processes in the wild to create products.
In 2009, Janine Benyus, a biologist and author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature spoke at TED about biomimicry: “We live in a competent universe, a brilliant planet and are surrounded by genius. We’re not the first ones to build or design or optimise space or make things water proof or make things hot or cold. With biomimicry, people are beginning to remember that beings of the rest of the natural world are doing this in a manner that has allowed them to live gracefully on the planet for billions of years.” Nature’s apprentices, as she calls them, or biomimics are asking the question, “How would nature solve this?” This essentially is the concept of biomimicry.
With endless options, biomimicry has been applied to metallurgical engineering, materials science, nanotechnology and architecture to name a few.
Janine Benyus along with Dayna Baumeister founded The Biomimicry Guild, an organisation that offers consultations on biomimicry projects, conducts workshops and research to help innovators learn from nature. Also by them is Biomimicry 3.8, a social enterprise that conducts courses in the subject and offers professional training in the subject.
MIT and Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition have and are carrying out cutting-edge research in the fields of biomimicry movement and robotics that imitates creatures like geckos and ostriches. The Biomimicry Institute, USA, too offers learning in biomimetic processes to aid energy, industrial design, agriculture, human safety, medicine, architecture, etc.
In India, courses in design paradigm (inspired by biology) are taken at IIT (Kanpur and Bombay) and even on NPTEL, their online open resource learning site. Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, too is known for research carried out in engineering, nanotechnology, materials science, chemical engineering and product development. The department of aeroscience engineering at IIT-Madras too studies biomimetic flows. IIT-Kanpur is also carrying out research in biomimetics for human tissue engineering.
What’s more, the annual materials science festival of IIT-Bombay’s department of metallurgical and material science offers students an opportunity to exhibit their ideas and designs in their biomimicry contest. This is also proof that budding scientists in our country are not far behind in sustainable problem-solving.
In the words of Benyus, “The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone,” highlighting the attention biomimicry is getting in recent times as the need for sustainable living has been increasingly recognised.