De Gruyter Advent Calendar Door | 15
In a nutshell, biomimetics is man-made nature. More modestly, it could be described as the attempt to reproduce nature's inventions, great and small. Although complicated in detail, the results can be very useful in practice. The simplest example is familiar to everyone: the zip fastener. The most recent biomimetic developments might even save lives.
The similarity between some human inventions and products of nature is immediately apparent. Aircraft for example have wings, as birds do, and the common suction pad can be found on the tentacles of octopuses. Such comparisons can be made right down to the molecular level. It is there that biomimetics really comes into its own.
The on-chip lung
In microbiology, organs – that is to say their functions – are being imitated on microchips. A chip the size of a thumb has been produced through which vacuum paths run. Embedded within these paths is a membrane. The membrane can be populated with human cells, such as lung cells. Experiments can then be performed on this "living" lung. These include testing the response of cells to infestation by bacteria. New drugs can also be tested.
Similar imitations exist for the heart, kidney, and even the entire human metabolism. Such artificial organisms might one day finally make testing on animals unnecessary.
Not new in research
Biomimetics is not new. It was discovered centuries ago, for example, that not all colours consist of pigments of their own. Peacock feathers in bright shining colours for instance do not have thousands of different coloured pigments; they shimmer because of interference effects. This special kind of colours can be reproduced and are more resistant to light than pigmented colours. That’s why they are used for automotive coatings.
What is new in biomimetics however is the co-operation between scientists from the most diverse of disciplines: biologists, chemists, medical experts, physicists, information technologists, engineers, and many others. They have realized that in order to replicate nature, they must all work together.
Do you want to learn more about the topic?
Read the textbook Biomimetics: A Molecular Perspective by Raz Jelinek for free.
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