10/22/2007 09:19 AM
Product design by Mother Nature - June 1, 2007
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GOOD SHAPE: Pax Scientific's
ultraefficient impellers took inspiration
from the calla lily.
SEA CHANGE: Harman's observations of
shells and other spiral forms led to his
discovering the 'streamlining principle.'
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Product design, nature's way
A new breed of inventor is turning Mother Earth's marvels into remarkable real-
world products. Business 2.0 reports.
, Business 2.0 Magazine
June 12 2007: 2:04 PM EDT
(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- For all their skill and technological prowess, human engineers still can't match
Mother Nature's best designs. Take, for example, the toe pads of ordinary house geckos.
Thanks to millions of bristly microfilaments that line the bottoms of their feet, the versatile lizards can
scamper up walls and across ceilings on any surface, wet or dry. The intermolecular forces between pad
and surface are so strong that geckos can hang comfortably from one toe. The pads also have impressive
quick-release capabilities and leave no sticky residue.
Can you imagine tire treads, duct tape, or building materials that
could do the same?
An increasingly influential group of researchers and entrepreneurs
can -- and they're busy working on the designs. Pioneering a
relatively new field called biomimicry, they're taking a close look at
nature's marvels and reverse-engineering them into real-world
How, they ask, do lotus leaves repel water and stay so clean? How
can the ventilation systems in termite mounds be used to cool city
buildings? Could the glue that mussels use to adhere to rocky
surfaces be adapted to heal broken bones?
11 coolest products on the planet
Answering such questions could bring great wealth to a new
generation of inventors. But it could also do much more. Biomimics,
as the practitioners in this field call themselves, see nature's
example as the key to combating environmental destruction.
Natural designs, honed through millions of years of evolution, tend
to be surprisingly efficient. Products built along those lines could
replace the detritus of the first industrial age with cleaner, more
elegant, and much more sustainable substitutes.
"Biomimicry has become a methodology for finding answers to
engineering or design questions," says Janine Benyus, who wrote
one of the first books on the subject and now consults with
companies looking to profit from biomimics. "You take an
engineering problem like how to lubricate or adhere to something,
and you find examples of how nature has solved that problem. If
you look carefully, you can always find technologies shaped by