Question Who came up with the idea for Velcro?
The invention of Velcro is just one example of design imitating nature. Human design modeled on biology and natural processes is called biomimicry. By observing nature, scientists can often find solutions to human problems–and inspiration for new inventions.
How did Velcro come about?
While we use Velcro to secure our shoes, clothing and other items, we may not have thought about how it came to be. During a bird hunting trip, George de Mestral External noticed that burdock burrs clung to his clothes. When he tried to remove them he noticed that not only could he remove the burrs easily easily but he could also reattach them. He examined the burrs under a microscope and found out that the burdock plant has a system of hooks that are capable of attaching themselves to loops of thread. Further research and experimentation led to the fastening product we know today as Velcro–thanks to the burdock plant and some astute observations.
What are some others examples of biomimicry?
Many innovations have been patterned on designs from nature. The Wright Brothers (and others) studied birds in an effort to build a more efficient flying machine. More recently, the kingfisher’s heavy straight bill inspired the design of the Japanese bullet train. By examining the kingfisher’s bill engineers were able to reduce the sonic boom effect while increasing the speed of the fastest train in the world, the Maglev Bullet Train.
The owl’s trailing edge fringe has provided clues to producing silent and more efficient onshore wind turbines. The owl is equipped to hunt in silence as a result of its wing structure. New materials which are capable of imitating the surface of an owl’s wings are being used in an effort to produce more energy while at the same time reducing noise.
What can we learn from the Hippo?
Scientists are looking at designing more efficient temperature controls in buildings and have discovered that by examining the hippo’s semi-aquatic lifestyle and the protective quality of its skin we can produce a structure that is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Furthermore, we may examine ‘hippo sweat’ in an effort to produce a more efficient sun screen product as hippos do not get sunburned.
There are numerous examples of successful biomimicry, but many other natural processes remain a mystery. For example, scientists believe that sheep may be capable of remembering the faces they see. The ability to remember faces is critical in many areas of everyday human life–especially in law enforcement. Continued research into why sheep are more capable of recognizing faces than their human counterparts could be beneficial in a number of applications that involve security and surveillance.
- Geckos feet contain millions of tiny hairs on each foot (setae). These setae branch off into pad-like objects called spatulae. Each time a gecko makes contact with a surface a strong bond is created. Scientists looking to create an adhesive strip capable of carrying large loads examined the foot of the gecko and found that the tendons hold the gecko to its surface, while the flexibility of the foot allows for its release. Potential uses–including patching wounds inside the human body–are on the horizon.
- Fish are capable of a wide variety of swimming techniques. Robotic fish that can mimic these techniques are useful in a port environment when there is a need to detect pollution or other harmful agents in a specific area.
- The rhinoceros is unable to grow new horns after an aggressive battle. Rather, the horns self-repair when a protein in the horn is exposed to air and fills the crack. Small cracks in concrete can lead to the failure of a structure; however, self-healing concrete containing microcapsules filled with resin can flood the crack and repair the concrete.
- George Washington’s dentist used the tusks and jaws of hippos from which to carve teeth for his dentures. It is believed that Washington’s dental problems were the result of having the ‘misfortune to cracking of Walnuts in his Youth’ External. Since hippopotamus ivory is denser than both elephant and walrus ivory, Washington’s dentist, Dr. John Greenwood used this variety of ivory to mimic the strong teeth George Washington was accustomed to chewing with earlier in his life.Scientists continue to examine materials to be used for dentures and look to nature for solutions when addressing issues of tooth resilience and weakness.
Published: 11/19/2019. Author: Science Reference Section, Library of Congress