Biomimetics

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... inspired Velcro tape.

Biomimetics or biomimicry is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems.[1] The terms "biomimetics" and "biomimicry" derive from Ancient Greek: βίος (bios), life, and μίμησις (mīmēsis), imitation, from μιμεῖσθαι (mīmeisthai), to imitate, from μῖμος (mimos), actor. A closely related field is bionics.[2]

Living organisms have evolved well-adapted structures and materials over geological time through natural selection. Biomimetics has given rise to new technologies inspired by biological solutions at macro and nanoscales. Humans have looked at nature for answers to problems throughout our existence. Nature has solved engineering problems such as self-healing abilities, environmental exposure tolerance and resistance, hydrophobicity, self-assembly, and harnessing solar energy.

History[edit]

One of the early examples of would-be biomimicry was the study of birds to enable human flight. Although never successful in creating a "flying machine", Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was a keen observer of the anatomy and flight of birds, and made numerous notes and sketches on his observations as well as sketches of "flying machines".[3] The Wright Brothers, who succeeded in flying the first heavier-than-air aircraft in 1903, allegedly derived inspiration from observations of pigeons in flight.[4]

Leonardo da Vinci's design for a flying machine with wings based closely upon the structure of bat wings.

During the 1950s the American biophysicist and polymath Otto Schmitt developed the concept of "biomimetics".[5] During his doctoral research he developed the Schmitt trigger by studying the nerves in squid, attempting to engineer a device that replicated the biological system of nerve propagation.[6][need quotation to verify] He continued to focus on devices that mimic natural systems and by 1957 he had perceived a converse to the standard view of biophysics at that time, a view he would come to call biomimetics.[5]

Biophysics is not so much a subject matter as it is a point of view. It is an approach to problems of biological science utilizing the theory and technology of the physical sciences. Conversely, biophysics is also a biologist's approach to problems of physical science and engineering, although this aspect has largely been neglected.

— Otto Herbert Schmitt, In Appreciation, A Lifetime of Connections: Otto Herbert Schmitt, 1913 - 1998

In 1960 Jack E. Steele coined a similar term, bionics, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where Otto Schmitt also worked. Steele defined bionics as "the science of systems which have some function copied from nature, or which represent characteristics of natural systems or their analogues".[2][7] During a later meeting in 1963 Schmitt stated,

Let us consider what bionics has come to mean operationally and what it or some word like it (I prefer biomimetics) ought to mean in order to make good use of the technical skills of scientists specializing, or rather, I should say, despecializing into this area of research

— Otto Herbert Schmitt, In Appreciation, A Lifetime of Connections: Otto Herbert Schmitt, 1913 - 1998

In 1969 Schmitt used the term “biomimetic“ in the title one of his papers,[8] and by 1974 it had found its way into Webster's Dictionary, bionics entered the same dictionary earlier in 1960 as "a science concerned with the application of data about the functioning of biological systems to the solution of engineering problems". Bionic took on a different connotation when Martin Caidin referenced Jack Steele and his work in the novel Cyborg which later resulted in the 1974 television series The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin-offs. The term bionic then became associated with "the use of electronically operated artificial body parts" and "having ordinary human powers increased by or as if by the aid of such devices".[9] Because the term bionic took on the implication of supernatural strength, the scientific community in English speaking countries largely abandoned it.[10]

The term biomimicry appeared as early as 1982.[11] Biomimicry was popularized by scientist and author Janine Benyus in her 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Biomimicry is defined in the book as a "new science that studies nature's models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems". Benyus suggests looking to Nature as a "Model, Measure, and Mentor" and emphasizes sustainability as an objective of biomimicry.[12]

Bio-inspired technologies[edit]

Biomimetics could in principle be applied in many fields. Because of the diversity and complexity of biological systems, the number of features that might be imitated is large. Biomimetic applications are at various stages of development from technologies that might become commercially usable to prototypes.[13] Murray's law, which in conventional form determined the optimum diameter of blood vessels, has been re-derived to provide simple equations for the pipe or tube diameter which gives a minimum mass engineering system.[14]

Locomotion[edit]

Aircraft wing design[citation needed] and flight techniques[15] are being inspired by birds and bats. Biorobots based on the physiology and methods of locomotion of animals include BionicKangaroo which moves like a kangaroo, saving energy from one jump and transferring it to its next jump[16]. Kamigami Robots, a children's toy, mimic cockroach locomotion to run quickly and efficiently over indoor and outdoor surfaces [17].

The BionicKangaroo reproduces the jumping locomotion of a kangaroo, bouncing to recover much of the energy of each jump.

Construction and architecture[edit]

Researchers studied the termite's ability to maintain virtually constant temperature and humidity in their termite mounds in Africa despite outside temperatures that vary from 1.5 °C to 40 °C (35 °F to 104 °F). Researchers initially scanned a termite mound and created 3-D images of the mound structure, which revealed construction that could influence human building design. The Eastgate Centre, a mid-rise office complex in Harare, Zimbabwe,[18] stays cool without air conditioning and uses only 10% of the energy of a conventional building of the same size.

In structural engineering, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) has incorporated biomimetic characteristics in an adaptive deployable "tensegrity" bridge. The bridge can carry out self-diagnosis and self-repair.[19] The arrangement of leaves on a plant has been adapted for better solar power collection.[20]

Analysis of the elastic deformation happening when a pollinisator lands on the sheath-like perch part of the flower Strelitzia reginae (known as Bird-of-Paradise flower) has inspired architects and scientists from the University of Freiburg and University of Stuttgart for the creation of hingeless shading systems that can react to their environment. These bio-inspired products is sold under the name Flectofin.[21][1]

Other hingeless bioinspired system includes Flectofold.[22] Flectofold has been inspired from the trapping system developed by the carnivorous plant Aldrovanda vesiculosa.

Structural materials[edit]

There is a great need for new structural materials that are light weight but offer exceptional combinations of stiffness, strength and toughness.

Such materials would need to be manufactured into bulk materials with complex shapes at high volume and low cost and would serve a variety of fields such as construction, transportation, energy storage and conversion. In a classic design problem, strength and toughness are more likely to be mutually exclusive i.e., strong materials are brittle and tough materials are weak. However, natural materials with complex and hierarchical material gradients that span from nano- to macro-scales are both strong and tough. Generally, most natural materials utilize limited chemical components but complex material architectures that give rise to exceptional mechanical properties. Understanding the highly diverse and multi functional biological materials and discovering approaches to replicate such structures will lead to advanced and more efficient technologies. Bone, nacre (abalone shell), teeth, the dactyl clubs of stomatopod shrimps and bamboo are great examples of damage tolerant materials.[23] The exceptional resistance to fracture of bone is due to complex deformation and toughening mechanisms that operate at spanning different size scales - nanoscale structure of protein molecules to macroscopic physiological scale.[24]

Electron microscopy image of a fractured surface of nacre

Nacre exhibits similar mechanical properties however with rather simpler structure. Nacre shows a brick and mortar llike structure with thick mineral layer (0.2∼0.9-μm) of closely packed aragonite structures and thin organic matrix (∼20-nm).[25] While thin films and micrometer sized samples that mimic these structures are already produced, successful production of bulk biomimetic structural materials is yet to be realized. However, numerous processing techniques have been proposed for producing nacre like materials.[23]

Biomorphic mineralization is a technique that produces materials with morphologies and structures resembling those of natural living organisms by using bio-structures as templates for mineralization. Compared to other methods of material production, biomorphic mineralization is facile, environmentally benign and economic.[26]

Freeze casting (Ice templating), an inexpensive method to mimic natural layered structures was employed by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to create alumina-Al-Si and IT HAP-epoxy layered composites that match the mechanical properties of bone with an equivalent mineral/ organic content.[27] Various further studies [28][29][30][31] also employed similar methods to produce high strength and high toughness composites involving a variety of constituent phases.

Recent studies demonstrated production of cohesive and self supporting macroscopic tissue constructs that mimic living tissues by printing tens of thousands of heterologous picoliter droplets in software-defined, 3D millimeter-scale geometries.[32] Efforts are also taken up to mimic the design of nacre in artificial composite materials using fused deposition modelling [33] and the helicoidal structures of stomatopod clubs in the fabrication of high performance carbon fiber-epoxy composites.[34]

Various established and novel additive manufacturing technologies like PolyJet printing, direct ink writing, 3D magnetic printing, multi-material magnetically assisted 3D printing and magnetically-assisted slip casting have also been utilized to mimic the complex micro-scale architectures of natural materials and provide huge scope for future research.[35]

Spider web silk is as strong as the Kevlar used in bulletproof vests. Engineers could in principle use such a material, if it could be reengineered to have a long enough life, for parachute lines, suspension bridge cables, artificial ligaments for medicine, and other purposes.[12] The self-sharpening teeth of many animals have been copied to make better cutting tools.[36]

New ceramics that exhibit giant electret hysteresis have also been realized.[37]

Self healing materials[edit]

In general in biological systems, self healing occurs via chemical signals released at the site of fracture which initiate a systemic response that transport repairing agents to the fracture site thereby promoting autonomic healing.[38] To demonstrate the use of micro-vascular networks for autonomic healing, researchers developed a microvascular coating–substrate architecture that mimics human skin.[39] Bio-inspired self-healing structural color hydrogels that maintain the stability of an inverse opal structure and its resultant structural colors were developed.[40] A self-repairing membrane for inspired by rapid self-sealing processes in plants was developed for inflatable light weight structures such as rubber boats or Tensairity® constructions. The researchers applied a thin soft cellular polyurethane foam coating on the inside of a fabric substrate, which closes the crack if the membrane is punctured with a spike.[41] Self-healing materials, polymers and composite materials capable of mending cracks have been produced based on biological materials.[42]

Surfaces[edit]

Surfaces that recreate properties of shark skin are intended to enable more efficient movement through water. Efforts have been made to produce fabric that emulates shark skin.[14][43]

Surface tension biomimetics are being researched for technologies such as hydrophobic or hydrophilic coatings and microactuators.[44][45][46][47][48]

Adhesion[edit]

Wet adhesion[edit]

Some amphibians, such as tree and torrent frogs and arboreal salamanders, are able to attach to and move over wet or even flooded environments without falling. This kind of organisms have toe pads which are permanently wetted by mucus secreted from glands that open into the channels between epidermal cells. They attach to mating surfaces by wet adhesion and they are capable of climbing on wet rocks even when water is flowing over the surface.[49] Tire treads have also been inspired by the toe pads of tree frogs.[50]

Marine mussels can stick easily and efficiently to surfaces underwater under the harsh conditions of the ocean. Mussels use strong filaments to adhere to rocks in the inter-tidal zones of wave-swept beaches, preventing them from being swept away in strong sea currents. Mussel foot proteins attach the filaments to rocks, boats and practically any surface in nature including other mussels. These proteins contain a mix of amino acid residues which has been adapted specifically for adhesive purposes. Researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara borrowed and simplified chemistries that the mussel foot uses to overcome this engineering challenge of wet adhesion to create copolyampholytes,[51] and one-component adhesive systems[52] with potential for employment in nanofabrication protocols. Other research has proposed adhesive glue from mussels.

Dry adhesion[edit]

Leg attachment pads of several animals, including many insects (e.g. beetles and flies), spiders and lizards (e.g. geckos), are capable of attaching to a variety of surfaces and are used for locomotion, even on vertical walls or across ceilings. Attachment systems in these organisms have similar structures at their terminal elements of contact, known as setae. Such biological examples have offered inspiration in order to produce climbing robots,[53] boots and tape[54] . Synthetic setae have also been developed for the production of dry adhesives.

Optics[edit]

Biomimetic materials are gaining increasing attention in the field of optics and photonics. There are still little known bioinspired or biomimetic products involving the photonic properties of plants or animals. However, understanding how nature designed such optical materials from biological resources is worth pursuing and might lead to future commercial products.

Macroscopic picture of a film of cellulose nanocrystal suspension cast on a Petri dish (diameter: 3.5cm).

Inspiration from fruits and plants[edit]

For instance, the chiral self-assembly of cellulose inspired by the Pollia condensata berry has been exploited to make optically active films.[55][56] Such films are made from cellulose which is a biodegradable and biobased ressource obtained from wood or cotton. The structural colours can potentially be everlasting and have more vibrant colour than the ones obtained from chemical absorption of light. Pollia condensata is not the only fruit showing a structural coloured skin, other berries such as Margaritaria nobilis does.[57] These fruits show iridescent colors in the blue-green region of the visible spectrum which gives the fruit a strong metallic and shiny visual appearance.[58] The structural colours come from the organisation of cellulose chains in the fruit's epicarp, a part of the fruit skin.[58] Each cell of the epicarp is made of a multilayered envelope that behaves like a Bragg reflector. However, the light which is reflected from the skin of these fruits is not polarised unlike the one arising from man-made replicates obtained from the self-assembly of cellulose nanocrystals into helicoids, which only reflect left-handed circularly polarised light.[59]

The fruit of Elaeocarpus angustifolius also show structural colour that come arises from the presence of specialised cells called iridosomes which have layered structures.[58] Similar iridosomes have also been found in Delarbrea michieana fruits.[58]

In plants, multi layer structures can be found either at the surface of the leaves (on top of the epidermis), such as in Selaginella willdenowii[58] or within specialized intra-cellular organelles, the so-called iridoplasts, which are located inside the cells of the upper epidermis.[58] For instance, the rain forest plants Begonia pavonina have iridoplasts located inside the epidermal cells.[58]

Structural colours have also been found in several algae, such as in the red alga Chondrus crispus (Irish Moss).[60]

Inspiration from animals[edit]

Morpho butterfly.
Vibrant blue color of Morpho butterfly due to structural coloration.

The same principles behind the coloration of soap bubbles apply to butterfly wings and many beetle scales which can lead to potential applications in the future [61][62] .The scales of these animals consist of microstructures such as ridges, cross-ribs, ridge-lamellae, and microribs that have been shown to be responsible for coloration.

Morpho butterfly wings contain microstructures that create its coloring effect through structural coloration rather than pigmentation. The colour of butterfly wings is due to multiple instances of constructive interference from structures: incident light waves are reflected at specific wavelengths to create vibrant colors due to multilayer interference, diffraction, thin film interference, and scattering properties [63] .The structural color has been simply explained as the interference due to alternating layers of cuticle and air using a model of multilayer interference. The photonic microstructure of Morpho butterfly wings can be replicated through biomorphic mineralization or deposition of randomly sized silica microspheres to lead to similar optical properties [64].

The photonic microstructures can be replicated using metal oxides or metal alkoxides such as titanium sulfate (TiSO4), zirconium oxide (ZrO2), and aluminium oxide (Al2O3). An alternative method of vapor-phase oxidation of SiH4 on the template surface was found to preserve delicate structural features of the microstructure.[65]

The manufacturer of high end cars Lotus have developed a paint that is said to mimic the structural blue colour of Morpho butterfly[66].

Phase-separation has been used to fabricate ultra-white scattering membranes from polymethylmethacrylate, mimicking the extraordinary properties of the beetle Cyphochilus.[67]

Display technology[edit]

The structural coloration of butterfly wings has been adapted to provide improved interferometric modulator displays.[68] A display technology (called "Mirasol") based on the reflective properties of Morpho butterfly wings was commercialized by Qualcomm in 2007. The technology uses Interferometric Modulation to reflect light so only the desired color is visible in each individual pixel of the display.[69]

Other technologies[edit]

Protein folding has been used to control material formation for self-assembled functional nanostructures.[70] Polar bear fur has inspired the design of thermal collectors and clothing.[71] The light refractive properties of the moth's eye has been studied to reduce the reflectivity of solar panels.[72]

The Bombardier beetle's powerful repellent spray inspired a Swedish company to develop a "micro mist" spray technology, which is claimed to have a low carbon impact (compared to aerosol sprays). The beetle mixes chemicals and releases its spray via a steerable nozzle at the end of its abdomen, stinging and confusing the victim.[73]

Most viruses have an outer capsule 20 to 300 nm in diameter. Virus capsules are remarkably robust and capable of withstanding temperatures as high as 60 °C; they are stable across the pH range 2-10.[26] Viral capsules can be used to create nano device components such as nanowires, nanotubes, and quantum dots. Tubular virus particles such as the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) can be used as templates to create nanofibers and nanotubes, since both the inner and outer layers of the virus are charged surfaces which can induce nucleation of crystal growth.

This was demonstrated through the production of platinum and gold nanotubes using TMV as a template.[74] Mineralized virus particles have been shown to withstand various pH values by mineralizing the viruses with different materials such as silicon, PbS, and CdS and could therefore serve as a useful carriers of material.[75] A spherical plant virus called cowpea chlorotic mottle virus (CCMV) has interesting expanding properties when exposed to environments of pH higher than 6.5. Above this pH, 60 independent pores with diameters about 2 nm begin to exchange substance with the environment. The structural transition of the viral capsid can be utilized in Biomorphic mineralization for selective uptake and deposition of minerals by controlling the solution pH. Possible applications include using the viral cage to produce uniformly shaped and sized quantum dot semiconductor nanoparticles through a series of pH washes. This is an alternative to the apoferritin cage technique currently used to synthesize uniform CdSe nanoparticles.[76] Such materials could also be used for targeted drug delivery since particles release contents upon exposure to specific pH levels.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Benyus, J. M. (2001). Along Came a Spider. Sierra, 86(4), 46-47.
  • Hargroves, K. D. & Smith, M. H. (2006). Innovation inspired by nature Biomimicry. Ecos, (129), 27-28.
  • Marshall, A. (2009). Wild Design: The Ecomimicry Project, North Atlantic Books: Berkeley.
  • Passino, Kevin M. (2004). Biomimicry for Optimization, Control, and Automation. Springer.
  • Pyper, W. (2006). Emulating nature: The rise of industrial ecology. Ecos, (129), 22-26.
  • Smith, J. (2007). It’s only natural. The Ecologist, 37(8), 52-55.
  • Thompson, D'Arcy W., On Growth and Form. Dover 1992 reprint of 1942 2nd ed. (1st ed., 1917).
  • Vogel, S. (2000). Cats' Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People. Norton.

External links[edit]