Biomimetics/ Bionics – The Science of Learning from Nature
The natural world as a source of engineering inspiration – that’s the core idea behind the fields bionics, a combination of the terms “biology” and “technics”, which means engineering in this context. In English, the approach of combining biology and engineering is often called biomimetics. The basic principle of biomimetics is learning from nature. The idea on bionics/biomimetics is to understand the principles and systems behind nature’s constructions and to transfer them to technical systems and devices.
The approach of combining biology and engineering is often also called biomimetics in English. The basic principle of biomimetics is learning from nature. The idea on bionics/biomimetics is to understand the principles behind nature´s constructions and to transfer them in to technical systems and devices.
One major application of biomimetics is the field of biomaterials. Spider silk, for example, is both light and flexible and three times stronger than steel. Such material properties are of interest for various technical fibers. In robotics animal models such as Geckos are used as inspiration for the development of climbing robots. Another application is the development of water-repellent, self-cleaning materials, which were inspired by the surface structure of the lotus leaf.
Just when man though it was the smartest of all living organisms, he has to take a step back and learn a couple of tricks even from plants! But yes, it’s ever too late to learn and every organism as a lesson or two it can teach.
Path-breaking biological research is heading towards studying various living organisms and their survival strategies and incorporating them into our daily life technology, medicine, computing and even building material.
Prof. Yan and his team at University of Nottingham, University Park, inspired by the functions of sharks skins and riblet surfaces have studied and applied it to wall structures to reduce turbulent flow drag. His research presents an approach of drag reduction using “Smart Surface”, a new proposed composite surface that combines the riblet with an elastic coating. The “smart surface”, inspired by the self-adjustable skin of marine animals such as the dolphin, is designed to modify the traditional riblet technique and enable it to “sense” and interact with the flow by adjusting the wall structure according to the flow condition. The physical model of “Smart Surface” has been designed, considering the factors of manufacture feasibility, durability and drag reduction performance in previous studies.
The geometry of biomimetic surfaces of soil animals were imitated and modelled on a cone component surface (the measuring tip part of a soil cone penetrometer). These biomimetic surfaces are formed by concave dips, convex domes and two wavy forms.
Many species of owl, including the eagle owl, are known to be excellent nocturnal predators. Its prey, typically rodent animal, has acute hearing which can make up for the terrible vision at night. However, the owl in both gliding and flapping flight generates noise at low frequencies below prey’s hearing range. Hence, the owl’s flight to its prey is almost silent. The wing feather of owl optimizes special characteristics which have functions of sound attenuation and absorption, such as the serration at the leading edge of the feather, the fringe at the trailing edge, and the velvet-like structure on the wing. Due to the above hush-kit, the noise emission of owl’s flight can be controlled. Research in China, initiated a systematic morphology analysis of wing feather, and presented a quantitative comparison between the eagle owl and common buzzard. The internal relationship between characteristic parameter of owl wing feather and silent flight was studied, and quantitative analysis of owl’s hush-kit application can be prepared for the design of material components in engineering.
Bioengineer Dr Michelle Oyen of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering is working with a team of researchers to create a building material composed of artificial bone and eggshell to replace concrete and steel.
Why bone and egg shells you ask?
Bone and eggshell make a promising combination due to their composites of proteins and minerals. While the minerals provide stiffness to the structure, the protein provides resistance to damage. Another feature of bone, which is as yet a far way off for scientists’ artificial replications, is its ability to self-heal after injury.
Dr Michael Ramage from the Department of Architecture at Cambridge is also working on the future of construction. Concrete and steel are currently the go-to materials for tall buildings, but Ramage proposes that wood — one of humanity’s oldest building materials — could provide a solution.
Ramage has recently submitted a proposal to the Mayor of London for an 80-storey, 300 m high timber skyscraper.
Study Biomimetics/ Bionics
This new avenue of biological mimicking has led to the beginning of a fresh domain of teaching and research. A lot of universities all over the world have laboratories and expert facilities for Biomimetics now and offer courses for the same.
This new field of biological study blends beautifully with mathematics, physics, material science, robotics – you name it! So for all those students who want to pursue study in the field of biology, but with a difference – this is it!
Apart from the research discussed above and the other imminent places offering biomimetic study, others include University of Edinburgh-Scotland, UC-San Diego, UC-LA, University of Birmingham-UK, Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences-Germany all offer graduate courses (usually master’s courses like MS and MEngg or doctorate/postdoctorate research programs) in Biomimetics combined with other core domains of Mathematics, Physics, Material Sciences and Mechanical Engineering.
Career Paths to pursue in Biomimetics
Experts in bionics/biomimetics work in a highly interdisciplinary field which requires expertise in both engineering and biology. What‘s more, interest in potential uses for bio-inspired materials and machinery continues to grow in many sectors and industries, creating a growing demand for specialists in these fields.
Potential areas of employment for graduates are:
- Industries and research institutions focusing on micro-/nanotechnology
- Bio-materials industry
- Energy technology
- Engineering offices
- Research institutions
- Service providers and experts specialising in biomimetics