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Biomimicry and Bullet Trains

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 28, 2011

kingfisher

The BBC has a roundup of some of the ways the natural world is shaping industrial design:

For instance, a Canadian firm Whirlpower mimics humpback whale flippers and uses the principle on wind turbines and fans, reducing the drag and increasing the lift.

A paint company Lodafen applies the lotus effect, mimicking the shape of the bump on a lotus leaf.

Lotus leaves are self-cleaning – they have tiny bumps that help remove the dirt when it rains.

Lodafen uses the principle in architecture designs – and in Europe, there are more than 350,000 buildings that have this kind of paint.

The design of the fastest train in the world, Shinkansen bullet train in Japan, was inspired by the beak of a kingfisher.

“And of course the high-speed train, Shinkansen bullet train in Japan – it’s the fastest train in the world, traveling 200 miles per hour.

“Instead of having a rounded front, it has something that looks like a beak of a kingfisher, a bird that goes from air to water, one density of medium to another,” she adds.

You can read the full article here.

And digging through the debris in my office, I just came across another roundup from an airline magazine, Hemispheres, back in January.  The writer is Tiffany Meyers:

When Kaichang Li, a science professor at Oregon State University, discovered that the blue mussel’s sticky fibers resemble soy flour’s proteins, he developed a nontoxic, soy-flour- based adhesive, called PureBond Technology. For Columbia Forest Products, manufacturer of hardwood plywood and veneer, it was the end of a competitive scramble to find an alternative to the pricey, carcinogenic industry standard: urea- formaldehyde-based glue.

Nature-inspired design might even correct our overindulgences. The intemperate use of antibiotics has given rise to drug-resistant bacteria like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a “superbug” that causes difficult-to-treat, drug-resistant infections and beleaguers hospitals. In 2005, MRSA killed more than 19,000 people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. The cure? Sharks. When scientist Anthony Brennan was researching alternatives to toxic antifouling paints that discourage the growth of barnacles and other crusty life forms on ships, a Galapagos shark swam by. Its skin was squeaky clean. Brennan investigated and discovered that the microscopic pattern on the creature’s naturally bacteria-resistant scales can be replicated. Harnessing that discovery, Sharklet Technologies launched SafeTouch skins last year. Bacteria growth is reduced by 80 percent on these adhesive-backed surface coverings—which can be placed on everything from hospital countertops to bathroom doors—than it does on other surfaces. “Rather than trying to conquer nature, we’re learning from it,” says Sarah Eder, a vice president at Sharklet.

Even nature’s freakier features can serve as inspiration. Take the case of the tardigrade. The microscopic animal enters a state of anhydrobiosis when dehydrated, suspended in a seemingly dead state for years. When exposed to water, however, it revives and walks away. Scientists Judy Müller-Cohn and Rolf Müller founded biostability company Biomatrica in 2006, off ering a suite of products that, mimicking anhydrobiosis, stabilize biological lab samples at room temperature. Why is this important? Scientists customarily preserve DNA and RNA samples in freezers, which can malfunction, wreaking havoc on research. This new approach will preserve them far more effectively—and at less cost. Stanford University estimates that conversion to room-temperature sample stability could save the university $16 million over 10 years.

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