Over about 3,800,000,000 years living things have survived in the harsh surroundings by developing “technology.” Human beings also have invented many convenient things such as a compass, gunpowder, a typographic printer, a steam engine and a computer. We human beings, however, cannot surpass the wisdom of nature. Then we started to have a careful look at her.Do you know biomimicry? “Bio” means biology, and “mimic” is the verb which means imitating. As its name literally suggests, biomimicry is the technology which adapts nature’s structures, systems and chemical property. We think that nature has the most efficient technology which also reduces the loads on the environment.
Have you ever noticed that the bullet trains have a bizarre shape in the first car? It is not simply pointed but has a very complicated streamline, and it may be good at effectively accelerating and keeping its speed high. Then how did the engineers come up with this silhouette? The answer is in nature. A platypus is a mammal living in Australia which has a big bill and swims fast. The engineers paid attention to this strange animal. They copied the design from a platypus’ bill which has the best shape to reduce resistance under water, so the bullet trains, which have the similar form as their bill, can weaken air resistance. It can also decrease electricity consumed to speed it up. We can easily remember a platypus when looking at N700 series bullet trains at the station.
Next, the design of a new raincoat also shows how efficient biomimicry is. The latest technology realized a very functional raincoat which can shut raindrops out and breathe well. Thiscompletely repels water drops bigger than 100 micro meters, and expels vaper we sweat. These are explained by two specific structures. First, it has many tiny holes on its surface. They all are smaller than 100 micrometers, which is the minimum size of raindrops. This is how the raincoat emits vaper and stopsraindrops by intruding into the clothes. However, raindrops which land on the surface of the jacket lose the spherical shape and may come into the coat through the holes. In fact, lotus effect plays a great role in this situation. When water is on the surface of a lotus leaf, it makes a spherical shape like mercury and rolls off, so the leaves seldom get dirty. The cause of this is the water-repellent double structure of the surface. This enables the contact area and the adhesion force between surface and droplet to be significantly reduced. The double structure is formed of a characteristically rough epidermis and the covering waxes. The raincoat imitates this idea and it has the hydrophobic property.
The last example is a needle of injection. We all hate injection because it is really painful. As a child, we might cry out in front of the doctor who has an injector in his hand. We have to take a vaccination or have our blood sample taken when we are sick. If injection is not painful, people will get injection more casually and it leads to the rise in immunization rate. Then medical engineers tried to make a painless injection needle. They focused on mosquitos. We do not feel any pain when a mosquito bites us. Of course, a terrible itch follows it, but nobody even notices when a mosquito is biting. It is mysterious that their proboscis does not hurt our skin even though they thrust their pin-like mouth. Actually, mosquitos have a specific system to pierce animals’ skin with weak force and suck blood without being noticed. Their mouth seems one needle but actually consists of seven mouthparts. They are the labium, two mandibles, two maxillae, the hypopharynx, and the labrum.They touch the labium, which forms the sheath enclosing the rest of the parts, to the skin to find a place with easily accessible vessels. The mandibles and the maxillae are used for piercing the skin. The mandibles are pointed, while the maxillae end in flat, toothed blades. To force these into the skin, the mosquito moves its head backwards and forwards. On one movement, the maxillae are moved forward. On the opposite movement, the mandibles are pushed deeper by levering against the maxillae. The maxillae do not slip back because the toothed blades grip the skin. (Saliva with anticoagulant is pumped down the hypopharynx to prevent clotting, and blood is drawn up the labrum.) A newly designed injector has the similar structure as the mandibles and the maxillae. A merely thin needle can be broken in the vessel, so it is insufficient for mosquitos, which have to protect the tool to obtain nutrition, and humans, who must avoid a pricking accident.
These examples are just the tips of iceberg. There are many more technologies copying nature. It is interesting that many structures supported by biomimicry are calculated to be the best organized design when using physics. The earth is lacking natural resources. Biomimicry can be the remedy for this problem because it is so efficient that the productions made with it can minimize wasted expense and resources. We have to begin looking at the system made by organisms more carefully. One of the most revolutionary things in biomimicry is that it reconnects us to nature. In the field of literature and architecture, the main stream has changed over and over again. The times of premodernism, human beings lived and harmonized with nature. The times of modernism, we came to like inorganic structure and hold on to structuralism. As a result, we started to ignore or destroy nature. However, in 20th century, philosophers came up with décontruction. This means that human’s thought always destroy the old way of thinking and create the new one. This became popular in other fields and people began to have a look at nature, which they thought embodied déconstruction. This was postmodernism. I think that this new kind of ideology may have influenced the area of the latest technology and biomimicry represents it. It is natural that productions with biomimicry are likely to get along well with nature because they mimic nature. From the above reason, I believe that biomimicry is the solution to the environmental problems the earth is suffering from and also makes our life efficient and comfortable.
Matsumoto, Masayuki. “蚊が血を吸うメカニズムの解明から世界で一番痛くない針の開発に挑戦” Front Runner, vol. 15, 2013. WAO Science, http://s-park.wao.ne.jp/archives/854 蚊