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Top biomimetic innovations of 2009

13th January 2010,
The Year in Biomimicry: Fins For Humans, The Aquapenguin and Robots With Whiskers
Tom McKeag’s blog proposes some candidates for the top biomimetic innovations of 2009. Take a look here and see if you agree!


Iron-plated snail could inspire new armour

27th January  2010, MIT
Tiny snails sitting on the ocean floor might seem defenceless against a large, determined predator such as a crab. But evolution has provided one species of sea snail with a unique iron-plated armoured shell that resists such attacks, new research from MIT shows. Engineers who wanted to mimic the snail’s unique stability and penetration resistance — valuable traits for armour — could copy the tri-layer structure but replace the organic components with manmade components such as bulletproof materials. Read more here.


Mangroves inspire skyscrapers of the future

5th January 2010,
Design team Chimera has conceived of an incredible series of spiralling skyscrapers for London modelled after the complex ecosystems created by the mangrove tree. Dubbed Mangal City, the project is an “urban ecological system” composed of modular pod capsules that shift to adapt to environmental and contextual conditions. A beautiful example of biomimicry and certainly a flight of fancy, the plan proposes a futuristic building system based upon flexibility. Read more here.


Shrimp's eye points way to better DVDs
25th October 2009, Reuters
The amazing eyes of a giant shrimp living on Australia's Great Barrier Reef could hold the key to developing a new type of super high-quality DVD player. They can see in 12 primary colours, four times as many as humans. Now a team at the University of Bristol have shown how the shrimps do it, using remarkable light-sensitive cells that rotate the plane of polarization in light as it travels through the eye. Transferring the same multi-color ability into a DVD player would result in a machine capable of handling far more information than a conventional one. Read more here. The original paper, in Nature Photonics, can be found here.


Rotorcraft mimics maple seed design
20th October, 2009,The Engineer
Aerospace engineering graduate students at the University of Maryland's Clark School of Engineering have mimicked the design of the maple seed, or samara fruit, to create the world's smallest controllable single-winged rotorcraft. The maple-seed-inspired design is valuable because when dropped, unpowered, from a plane and then controlled remotely, it could perform surveillance manoeuvres for defence, fire monitoring and search-and-rescue purposes. Read the full story here and see a video of the concept and development here.


Nanoscale replication of butterfly wings
12th October 2009, CordisWire
A team of researchers from the Pennsylvania State University (USA) and the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain) have developed a technique to replicate biological structures, such as butterfly wings, on a nano scale. The resulting bioreplicated material could be used to make optically active structures, such as optical diffusers for solar panels. Insects' colours and their iridescence (the ability to change colours depending on the angle) or their ability to appear metallic are determined by tiny nano-sized photonic structures, which can be found in their cuticle. Scientists have focused on these biostructures to develop devices with light emitting properties. Read more here. The full paper can be found in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.


Researchers developing cockroach-inspired robots, cheetah-bots
12th October 2009, IEEE Spectrum
Report from the workshop on Biologically Inspired Robotics at the 2009 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, covering recent advances in the field. Read the full story here. Further details on the cockroach can be found here and the cheetah-bot here. There is clearly a lot of interest in bioinspired robotics at the moment- see also some interesting recent work at Berkeley on hexapodal runners and adhesion surfaces here.


TU Müenchen develops steel ‘Velcro’
6th October 2009, The Engineer
erhaps the most famous biomimetic invention has been given a novel twist by researchers in Munich. The Engineer reports the development of this new product. Temperatures in excess of 800°C and aggressive chemical solutions do not pose any problem for Metaklett, which also offers adhesive strength of up to 35 tonnes per square metre when tensile force is applied parallel to the fastener surface. Read more about this story here.

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Nissan develops collision-free robot inspired by fish
1st October, 2009
The Eporo robot car is a demonstrator concept for automatic avoidance of other vehicles, inspired by the rules used by schooling fish to prevent collisions. The test bed for future vehicle technologies was unveiled at CEATEC Japan on 6th October.
Read the Nissan press release here and watch the robot in action in on YouTube


Bionic Eye
The Engineer On Line, 17 June 2009
Scientists at the University of Manchester, UK, have developed a bionic eye to restore some level of visual capability in patients suffering from retinal degradation. Manchester eye specialists have implanted an artificial retina or 'bionic eye' in two patients who became blind due to advanced retinitis pigmentosa – an inherited and degenerative disease of the retina. The system uses a pair of cameras to provide electrical signals to stimulate retinal nerves. Extensive testing is just beginning on the two Manchester patients as the implant and video camera link are turned on to try and optimise retinal stimulation. More information can be found here.


Ten Inspirational And Creative Bionic Designs
Yanko Design Magazine 's Top 10 Biomimetic Innovations, June 2009
"Design is a heady mix of inspiration and perspiration. One avenue that some designers seriously contemplate but rarely incorporate is Biomimetics...... Here is a look at Ten Creative Bionic Designs that look awesome and are almost as perfect as their inspiration. Almost, can’t get better than Mother Nature."
Do you think they’ve missed anything important? - you can find their list here.

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Sperm-like nanopropeller is smallest swimmer ever
by Jon Evans
New Scientist, 27 May 2009
A new propeller, only two microns long, has been developed by scientists at Harvard. The way it swims mimics the corkscrew motion of the flagellum of a bacterium. Flagella are the structures some bacteria use to swim through water. ..... "Because water is syrupy at small scales, ordinary swimming motions don't work well. 'Picture trying to swim in a pool of asphalt on a hot summer's day,' says Peer Fischer of The Rowland Institute at Harvard University."
Instead, flagella use a corkscrew motion to drive bacteria through the water. The device carried a 200nm ‘head’, which may have the potential to be used to deliver drugs to parts of the body with a high degree of accuracy. .... "To make their propellers, Ghosh and Fischer covered a silicon wafer with glass beads, before depositing a vapour of silicon dioxide onto them. While doing so they spun the wafer, causing the silicon dioxide to form corkscrew-shaped tails on each bead." Read more here.


Supersticky robots to follow in geckos' footsteps
by Paul Marks, New Scientist, 27 April 2009
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a robot, by using gecko-inspired adhesives, that can ‘walk’ on ceilings. The ability to scale walls and hang off the ceiling with gecko-like ease may be within reach - for robots at least. "Metin Sitti and Ozgur Unver of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, say their new robots - a sticky-tracked wall climber and a 16-legged ceiling walker - could tackle many jobs in the home including painting ceilings and clearing cobwebs. They could also play a part in exploration, inspection, repair and even search and rescue.
Previous wall and ceiling climbers have used suction for locomotion. But suction has drawbacks: it requires lots of energy to drive a vacuum pump, and motion is limited to smooth surfaces like glass.The new robots, however, rely on a "sticky" elastic polymer, or elastomer, that can adhere to a variety of surfaces, including wood, metal, glass and brick. The idea is to mimic the mechanism which geckos use to climb walls and walk upside down." Check out the amazing video footage on the New Scientist website here.


Bats and Bees Give Micro-UAVs Street Cred
Graham Warwick, 10th October 2008
Aurora Flight Sciences is working with the University of Maryland on an Air Force Research Laboratory contract to demonstrate a vision-based guidance system for micro air vehicles that combines optics and sonar and allows small UAVs to navigate autonomously down city streets and through urban canyons. Bat-inspired echolocation will allow the MAV to detect and dodge obstacles like trees, poles and wires. This is needed as the visual sensor is not sensitive enough to see small objects because it uses a phenomenon called optical flow to allow the MAV to navigate relative to its surroundings. Optical flow is a technique being explored for machine vision applications, so far mainly for ground robotics. Read more.

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Ripple Effect: Water Snails offer new Propulsion Possibilities
San Diego, October 2008
UC San Diego engineer has revealed a new mode of propulsion based on how water snails create ripples of slime to crawl upside down beneath the surface. The research shows that the secret is in the slime. Movement  is undertaken on soft surfaces, such as the free surface of a pond or a lake, can be distorted by applying forces; these distortions can be exploited (by an animal, or in the lab) to generate propulsive forces and move. Some freshwater and marine snails crawl by “hanging” from the water surface while secreting a trail of mucus. An example of a biomimetic system that could be designed based on this research are small robotic swimmers, which could crawl underneath the free surface in a coordinated fashion. Read more.


Defense Technology International. Two articles from the September issue:
Insects Inspire MAV Design (p 14)
As micro air vehicles become smaller, soldiers may well use them as their own tactical reconnaissance assets. Researchers at BAE Systems say that MAV will look like individual insects, which is no co-incidence …….. something the size of a dragonfly……….. with video imaging could move in for a closer look. Other micro robots would have radio antenna for signal interception, or chemical sensors. Read more (Defense Technology International is an on line nxtbook, and you will need a flash player to read the articles)

Bio-Armour (p 51)The MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology is dissecting what may be a viable design for body armour. Polypterus senegalus, also known as the dinosaur eel is a fish with prehistoric bloodlines which go back 96 million years. It has scales in multiple layers that act as an armoured suit. Each scale has four different layer materials. In a U.S.Army-funded study, researchers found that the shape and thickness of the layers, their sequence and the junctions between them resist penetrating attacks. Read more. Details of Research from the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies Website


Tiny synthetic tree pumps water by  Heidi Ledford, Nature, 10 September 2008
A 'microtree' created from a synthetic gel used to make contact lenses has replicated water transport in plants. The design could be tweaked to improve extraction of water from dry soils, or to create more efficient cooling systems, researchers say.Water climbs from root to leaf when evaporation reduces water pressure within the leaf, sucking up water through a type of hollow plant tissue called xylem. ........ attempts to replicate the system in the lab have often met with defeat. Sometimes the artificial channels were too fragile to withstand the pressure difference; or minute imperfections in a channel wall could trigger an embolism and disrupt the system. Abraham Stroock ……… of Cornell University …. say(s) that they have overcome these technical hurdles by making water channels from a hydrogel ……. that contains tiny, homogeneous pores. Their system, published this week in Nature1, generates a continuous negative pressure that pulls in water from a vapour via the 'roots' and transports it as a liquid along hydrogel channels to the 'leaves', from which the water is evaporated.

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Bionic jellyfish demonstrate swarming behaviour, June 4 2008, Esslingen, Germany “Festo, in conjunction with the specialist display technology company, Effekt-Technik GmbH, has developed a bionic jellyfish – known as AquaJelly – to demonstrate swarming behaviour. Each AquaJelly is able to sense various aspects of its environment and to function completely autonomously, but is also endowed with communicative faculties that enable it to cooperate with other members of the group, and thereby behave as a system with a higher order of development….. AquaJelly is an artificial autonomous jellyfish with an electric drive unit and an intelligent adaptive mechanism that emulates swarming behaviour. It consists of a translucent hemisphere, a central watertight body and eight tentacles for propulsion. The AquaJelly's translucent hemispherical dome houses an annular control board with integrated, pressure, tight and radio sensors. “ Read More.. and you can watch the video at


Root mechanics tip balance of power: Eureka, 14/07/2008
An ingenious device – inspired by growing plant root tips – is opening up a new type of hydraulic fluid power.
Tom Shelley reports ………. Hydraulic actuators – which are powered by osmosis and inspired by growing plant root tips – are able to deliver very large forces at low power. They have been developed as soil exploration probes, and for driving in anchorages for robotic systems on other planets. But they could well find similar applications on earth, both on land and under the sea. Because they act very slowly, they could never replace conventional hydraulic applications such as earth moving equipment. But potential applications include: an alternative way to break up rocks or concrete, offering potential in the mining or construction industries; and as a way of keeping steel ropes in tension, such as on a suspension bridge. Barbara Mazzolai, from the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy, described the design and development of the ‘Robotic Root Apex’ at Biological Approaches for Engineering organised by ISVR at the University of Southampton


Self-Repairing Aircraft Could Revolutionize Aviation Safety newsroom, 28/05/2008
“A new technique that mimics healing processes found in nature could enable damaged aircraft to mend themselves automatically, even during a flight. As well as the obvious safety benefits, this breakthrough could make it possible to design lighter aeroplanes in future….. This would lead to fuel savings, cutting costs for airlines and passengers and reducing carbon emissions too.
The technique works like this. If a tiny hole/crack appears in the aircraft (e.g. due to wear and tear, fatigue, a stone striking the plane etc), epoxy resin would ‘bleed’ from embedded vessels near the hole/crack and quickly seal it up, restoring structural integrity. By mixing dye into the resin, any ‘self-mends’ could be made to show as coloured patches that could easily be pinpointed during subsequent ground inspections, and a full repair carried out if necessary.
This simple but ingenious technique, similar to the bruising and bleeding/healing processes we see after we cut ourselves, has been developed by aerospace engineers at Bristol University, with funding from EPSRC. It has potential to be applied wherever fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites are used.”

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Hercules Beetle Inspires Intelligent Materials
‘The Hercules Beetle is regarded to be the strongest creature in the world, capable of carrying up to 850 times its own weight, thanks to its super-strong protective shell. The shell also has other properties – the ability to change colour – which is helping scientists to design a new range of ‘intelligent materials’. The beetles’ shell changes from green to black as its surrounding atmosphere gets more humid. It is this property that interested researchers at the University of Namur in Belgium, who have closely examined structures in the shell that enable it to produce these colour changes. They found that normal light interference patterns within the shell resulted in a green colour. However, when water penetrated the surface, the interference patterns were distorted and the colour appeared black. If we could mimic the colour-changing abilities of the shell, it could help to devise smart materials that could act as humidity sensors, in food processing plants for example, where monitoring the moisture level is of critical importance. Research published in  New Journal of Physics, March 2008, Vol.10, 033014 pp 1-14.’


Gripping secrets of ivy revealed, from the May edition of Nano magazine
‘Researchers at the University of Tennessee have discovered the secret behind the ivy plant’s amazing gripping abilities – they appear to secrete nanoparticles that help them grip to surfaces. Microscopic rootlets spring out from the stems and secrete a “little yellowish matter”, as first described by Charles Darwin in 1876. Atomic force microscopy has now lifted the lid on the yellowish matter and revealed that it contains uniform particles 70nm across. The researchers believe the nanoparticles are produced inside the stem and then secreted out through the rootlets. The research team is now working out the mechanism by which the ivy produces nanoparticles and hope to work out exactly how they help the plant stick to surfaces. They will also investigate whether they could use ivy to produce other nanoparticles.’


Anti-reflective films inspired by insect wings
‘Nature has inspired Chinese researchers to produce a nanostructured anti-reflective film. The fascinating, anti-reflective properties of the cicada’s wing was used by the scientists at Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Nanotechnology and Engineering to produce the new material. The anti-reflective property of the cicada wing, which offers camouflage to the insect, is due to a gradual refractive index profile at the interface between the wing and the air.
The researchers deposited the wing in a gold form before transferring the pattern onto a film before being heated. The new reflective material could then be peeled off using tweezers. The gold mould could be used for more than ten times, the researchers report.’
The research was published in Nanotechnology 19 No 9 (5 March 2008) 095605 (5pp) as ‘The fabrication of subwavelength anti-reflective nanostructures using a bio-template’.

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The PAX Water Mixer
“PAX Scientific, based in San Rafael, California, has been using Biomimicry to improve fluid and heat handling machinery, and has established a subsidiary, PAX Water Technologies, to co
mmercialize its technology in water treatment and handling applications. PAX’s technology takes advantage of a fundamental principle that the underlying shape of all natural fluid flow has a common mathematical basis. Regardless of scale, natural flows follow a geometrically consistent, three-dimensional and centripetal pattern which represents the “path of least resistance to friction” and minimizes energy loss. This very principle, when applied to industrial applications, reduces frictional energy losses via streamlined flow fields, and is being applied to fan, mixer, propeller, turbine and pump applications. The PAX Water Mixer is the result of combining this new biomimetic approach with detailed mechanical engineering and rigorous validation and reliability testing.” More information


Biomimetics: From Teeth to Photonic Crystal Solar Light Collectors
American Chemical Society, August 12, 2006, by Andrei P. Sommer and Michael Gente,
ncreasing insecurity about the fossil energy supply and environmental changes force us to intensify the search for clean alternative energy sources (e.g., the sun). Here, we show that the photonic crystal structure of dentin, already exploited to treat tooth inflammations, inspires a practical method to harvest sunlight. Arrays of toothlike structures mounted on silicon permit collection of sunlight virtually independent of the angle of incidence of the sun, which could be vital, for instance, in Antarctica.


Biomimetic Technologies Project Will Create First Soft-Bodied Robots
Science Daily, Jan 30th 2007— While robots have moved from the realm of science fiction to a myriad of real-life uses, the potential of the "hard-bodied" robots of the 21st century remains limited by their stiff construction and lack of flexibility. A group of researchers at Tufts University has launched a multidisciplinary initiative focused on the science and engineering of a new class of robots that are completely soft-bodied. These devices will make possible advances in such far flung arenas as medicine and space exploration……….. According to David Kaplan, professor of biomedical engineering, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA, the project will bring together biology, bioengineering and micro/nano fabrication. "Our overall goal is to develop systems and devices--soft-bodied robots--based on biological materials and on the adaptive mechanisms found in living cells, tissues and whole organisms,"…………..
Current prototype of a soft-bodied robot (Softbot), built from a silicone elastomer. It has tiny "muscles" bonded to the inside wall; the muscles are controlled by the electronic interface visible in the background.
(Photo credit: Barry Trimmer / Tufts University)

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Two Wings Good, Four Wings Better
Gilbert Chin, Science. STKE, 13 February 2007, Vol. 2007, Issue 373, p. tw56
Some flying insects have two wings, whereas others have four. The common housefly, which possesses two wings, makes use of the vestigial hindwing (the pendulum-shaped haltere) as a source of mechanosensory input to the neural centers that support stable flight. Sane et al. have asked whether moths, which have four wings, possess a similar kind of flight control mechanism. Instead, the antennae appear to serve a haltere-like function by providing mechanosensory input through hairs or bristles located at their base, whose deflections are translated into afferent neural signals.
See Abstract of the paper ‘Antennal Mechanosensors Mediate Flight Control in Moths’


White beetle dazzles scientists
A UK study suggests a dazzling insect could help the development of brilliant white, ultra-thin materials. The finger-tip sized Cyphochilus beetle, found in south-east Asia, had a shell whiter than most other materials found in nature……...
The beetles are covered in ultra-thin scales 10 times thinner than human hair, which scatter all visible wavelengths of light, giving them their brilliant whiteness. The beetle’s colour helps it to hide among white fungi. A report in Science magazine claims mimicking these scales could provide a range of applications for industry. From BBC News, 18th January 2007.


Octopus skin yields bright discovery
The molecules that make octopus skin so successful as a dynamic camouflage could provide materials scientists with a new way to make super-reflective materials. Octopus, squid and cuttlefish have developed sophisticated skins so they can hide in an ocean full of hungry predators. Roger Hanlon at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts and colleagues took a close look at this skin and identified a new group of proteins with remarkable properties. Once the proteins involved and their optical properties are fully understood, there could be applications far more diverse than simply mimicking an octopus's camouflage, says Hanlon. Better optical fibres could be made, for example, with super-reflective compounds.  Originally in Nature News, 22 December 2006, but full text also here.


More about Gecko setae: Geckos inspire 'super-adhesive'
Just one metre square of a new super-sticky material inspired by gecko feet could suspend the weight of an average family car, say its inventors. The plastic, known as Synthetic Gecko, has been developed by researchers at aerospace and defence firm BAE Systems…….. The BAE team have created a material that mimics the gecko's setae. The adhesive is made of a polyamide, like Nylon, and is covered with millions of mushroom-shaped stalks. Stronger glues are available but unlike conventional adhesives Synthetic Gecko is reusable and does not leave any residues. From BBC News

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Deployable Structures for a Human Lunar Base
A Joint paper by the University of Technology Vienna and the Centre for Biomimetics, University of Reading.
From the ABSTRACT: ‘The purpose of the study “Deployable Structures for a Lunar Base” within the field of Lunar Exploration Architecture was to investigate bionic concepts applicable to deployable structures and to interpret the findings for possible implementation concepts. The study aimed at finding innovative solutions for deployment possibilities. Translating folding/unfolding principles from nature, candidate geometries were developed and researched using models, drawings and visualisations. The use of materials, joints between structural elements and construction details were investigated for these conceptual approaches.’ Read more


Marine natural products: Drugs from the deep
Nature 26 October 2006 Volume 443 Number 7114, by Emma Marris
‘William Fenical of Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California and a global group of like-minded scientists believe that the sea hides a mermaid's grotto of useful chemicals. And they have been diving for corals, grinding up sponges, fermenting microbes, and poking around inside cells for decades in an effort to find them. Chemicals from these organisms — natural products — can have pharmaceutical potential. But before scientists could deliver any useful natural products, the drug industry largely lost interest in the field, slowing its growth. Fenical and others now say that the problems of the past have mostly been solved. And they may no longer need the drug industry's support…………..
………….Marine natural products are attractive sources for new antibiotics because they are mostly secondary metabolites. That is, they are not essential to an organism's growth and development, but are compounds that do something else, such as deter predators — and could be re-engineered to aid our fight against infectious disease…… The lab made its first big discovery in deep-ocean sediment. There the team found lots of actinomycete species, despite the received wisdom that there were none in the sea. And from one of them, in 2003, came salinosporamide A, a compound that binds extremely selectively to the proteasome in tumour cells. It is now in clinical trials for multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood.’


Multimodal sensory integration in insects—towards insect brain control architectures
From Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, Vol. 1, No. 3, Sep 2006
Abstract. Although a variety of basic insect behaviours have inspired successful robot implementations, more complex capabilities in these 'simple' animals are often overlooked. By reviewing the general architecture of their nervous systems, we gain insight into how they are able to integrate behaviours, perform pattern recognition, context-dependent learning, and combine many sensory inputs in tasks such as navigation………The full text is available on line

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New nanomaterial fuses spider silk and silica
From Physicsweb IOP and Scientific, June 14 2006
Scientists in the US have created a novel nanomaterial that combines the strength of spider silk with the rigidity of silica. The product could pave the way for the fabrication of replacement bones. The new nanomaterial, which has been made by David Kaplan and colleagues at Tufts University in Massachusetts, boasts the flexibility and tensile strength of silk and the toughness of silica. The research has been published on line by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Biomimetics– A new approach for space system design
From an ESA (European Space Agency) bulletin
‘Biological systems represent millions of years of trial-and-error learning through natural selection according to the most stringent of metrics: survival………….ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team views biomimetics as a means of finding new and realistic technologies for application in future space missions. The research is not concerned with mere imitation of biological systems, but rather focuses on understanding the fundamental processes and mechanisms used in nature, in order to discover promising concepts valuable to space engineering. Benefits are expected in areas as diverse as sensors, actuators, smart materials, locomotion, and autonomous operations.’  Read More


Prospecting for Botanical Gold  by Nancy Eaton of
‘Dr. Manuel Aregullin is shown examining a species of Araucariaceae, or Norfolk Island Pine, at the Cornell University Conservatory. Scientists believe that bees use plants, including this one, to produce propolis, a substance responsible for neutralizing pathogens in beehives. For countless centuries, the shamans and medicine men of indigenous cultures used word of mouth to pass along knowledge of native plant material that held the power to heal or cure. Once dismissed as primitive and unscientific, the native healers in the remaining tribes of the world are now highly respected for what they know about medicinal plants and their uses.’ Read more

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Spacecraft skin 'heals' itself by Will King, New Scientist Space News 23 January 2006
‘A material that could enable spacecraft to automatically "heal" punctures and leaks is being tested in simulated space conditions on Earth. The self-healing spacecraft skin is being developed by Ian Bond and Richard Trask from the University of Bristol, UK, as part of a European Space Agency (ESA) project.
The researchers have taken inspiration from human skin, which heals a cut by exposing blood to air, which congeals to forms a protective scab. The analogy is the vascular system of the human body. The system needs to be completely autonomous.
The researchers have fabricated a composite laminate material containing hundreds of hollow glass filaments thousandths of a millimetre) wide. Half of the filaments are filled with an epoxy polymer or resin and the other half filled with a chemical agent that reacts with the polymer to form a very strong, hard substance. The glass filaments are designed to crack easily when the overall composite material is damaged, which causes both chemicals to leak out and rapidly plug the resulting crack or hole. Read more


Dolphin skin as a natural anisotropic compliant wall
Abstract: Although the success of compliant walls in mimicking dolphin skin is well known, the drag-reducing properties of a dolphin's skin are still unclear. Moreover, little is known about the relation between the 3D structure of the skin and the local flow conditions. To study the role of a dolphin's skin in reducing the drag the skin morphology parameters were compared with the parameters of an anisotropic compliant wall and a possible flow–skin interface was considered…
A paper by V V Pavlov 2006; the full paper is in the June edition of Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, the IOP Journal.
The online journal also includes reviews of:
The myth and reality of Gray's paradox: implication of dolphin drag reduction for technology by Frank E Fish.
On mathematical modelling of insect flight dynamics in the context of micro air vehiclesby Rafal Zbikowski, Salman A Ansari and Kevin Knowles


Eagle-cam provides aerodynamic insights New Scientist 11 April 2006
By hitching a ride on an eagle's back, engineers hope to learn how to build aircraft capable of similar feats of aerobatics. In a series of unique experiments, zoologists Graham Taylor and Adrian Thomas at Oxford University in the UK have equipped an eagle with miniature spy cameras and other instruments to record its movements during flight in precise detail. The tests have already provided new insight into the way birds control themselves in flight, the pair claim. …… Taylor and Thomas presented details of their work at the Society for Experimental Biology meeting in Canterbury, UK last week

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How a locust’s eardrum could lead to tiny microphones
University of Bristol News 31st March 2006
Being able to hear the smallest of noises is a matter of life or death for many insects, but for the scientists studying their hearing systems understanding how insect ears can be so sensitive could lead to new microphones able to capture and analyse extremely faint sounds. Read more


The red-hot power of chillies can kill cancer
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor, Daily Telegraph, 16/03/2006
The substance in chillies that causes the tongue to burn also drives prostate cancer cells to kill themselves, according to research that could pave the way for new treatments. The pepper component capsaicin makes the cells undergo programmed cell death or apoptosis, says a study published in the journal Cancer Research ……. ……..The Head of Policy and Research of Britain's Prostate Cancer Charity said: "Eventually, it may be possible to extract the capsaicin and make it available as a drug treatment. In the meantime we caution men with prostate cancer in the UK against upping their weekly intake of the hottest known chillies.


Insects, Cabbage Can Teach Engineers
An article by David Butcher in Thomasnet Industrial News Room, 6th December 2005.
Design problems may simply be solved by looking to nature for guidance. Ants may help with traffic patterns, bees may offer insights into aerodynamics, and skunk cabbage…well…skunk cabbage may reveal new ways to keep us warm during these frigid winters of which we are soon to see more…………..The article contains many references to further articles on the topics.


Boxfish Car
This comes from a DaimlerChrysler publicity leaflet, but the idea is also the subject of research papers. ‘While searching for a natural model for a pioneering concept car, DaimlerChrysler engineers came across a tropical bony fish that they found to be to their taste. Like its natural role model, the vehicle they created is distinguished by a stable and energy saving lightweight construction.’ See the DaimlerChrysler website for more details.

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Crickets inspire fine hair sensors
The December 2005 edition of Eureka Magazine featured research being done at the Centre for Biomimetics at the University of Reading. A study of the hairs used by crickets to detect small air movements has led directly to the development of very small, sensitive and light weight artificial systems in silicon and plastic for use in aerospace systems and hearing aids.
While the development devices use capacitive sensors rather than neurons, other researchers have taken the actual insect neurons and grown them on Field Effect transistors with a view to making them even more sensitive and address the problem of signal processing.
Contact Eureka Magazine or email The Centre for Biomimetics at Reading for more details.
Also see cicada


The Slug-bot
From News@Nature 13 Dec 05
Two years ago MIT engineers, led by Anette Hosoi, built a robotic snail to test out mathematical models of how snails move and stay stuck to surfaces. Now their research has gone further: A robotic snail that can climb smooth vertical walls and traverse ceilings has oozed into action.
The team tested out their snail on a tilting platform, covered with a 1.5-millimetre-thick layer of slime made from Laponite, a type of clay that forms a clear, sticky gel when mixed with water.
As the engineers increased the incline, they saw that the snail took the hill in its stride, continuing to plod along even when the surface was vertical. When the platform was flipped over so that the robot was upside down, it still made steady progress.
The group has now developed mathematical models to come up with the optimum weight and slime characteristics for a robotic snail. Hosoi says that these should help to build a second generation of robosnails that are much faster and more manoeuvrable.


Seeing with Miniature Eyes
Duane Harland of Canesis Network Ltd, in collaboration with Professor Robert Jackson , School of Biological Sciences at the University of Canterbury.
The objective is to understand how precise vision-based object identification can be achieved by a miniature system, in this case, jumping spiders. In the first part of the research programme jumping spider eye movement will be tracked, recorded and analysed using an experimental optical device. Then virtual robotic jumping spider eyes made from artificial neural networks will be grown inside a computer. Spiders and robots will be tested side by side with ambiguous and novel visual stimuli. In the final part of the work the robot eyes that best mimicked the jumping spider eyes will be reverse engineered to reveal the recipe they use for seeing. For more information see the Biomimetics NZ Inc website.

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In the swim
from Nature 437, 862-865 (6 October 2005)
Editor’s summary: ‘Attempts to create microscopic artificial devices to emulate the swimming of bacteria and other cells have met with little success. Until now, the artificial swimmers that have achieved this feat are spermatozoa-like in appearance, but unlike spermatozoa move in the direction of their tail rather than head. Each swimmer is composed of a red blood cell attached to a DNA-linked chain of colloidal magnetic particles that acts as a magnetically driven 'flagellum'. With this device it is possible to work out the optimal conditions for nanoscale swimming. It might even be useful for the precise positioning of tiny objects or for manipulating minute quantities of fluids.’


Technology that imitates nature
An article about Biomimetics from the Technology Quarterly of the Economist, Print edition, June 9th 2005, by Julian Vincent, the Director of the Centre for Biomimetic and Natural Technologies at the University of Bath in England. It is both a good introduction to biomimetic ideas, and a description of TRIZ, the database of biological ‘tricks’ developed at Bath.


BBC Bionic buildings
The BBC3 documentary on Bionic buildings is featured on their website. ‘Five specific areas where nature’s lessons can be applied to architecture are examined: Skin, Structure, Habitat, Energy and Waste’………. with links to buildings featured in the original programme.

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Materials World Articles
Three biomimetics Articles from the features pages of the April 2005 edition of Materials World:
A design for life
Biologists and engineers have focused on mimicking natural materials with increasing success over the past few decades. Now it could be time to devote more effort to drawing technological inspiration from the ways in which these materials are produced, says Dr Richard Bonser.
Go forth, and multiply
Researchers at Bath University led by Dr Adrian Bowyer are using self-replication - one of nature's central principles - as inspiration for a self-copying machine that could transform the face of manufacturing. Luke Hutson reports.
Bone in contention
The recreation of the structure of bone is now stimulating new approaches in the field of tissue engineering, and is also providing the inspiration for biomimetic materials and structures, writes Ian Salisbury.
.pdf files of all three articles can be downloaded from the Materials World website


Gecko feet
From, 04 January 2005
Gecko feet may hold the key to the development of synthetic self-cleaning adhesives, according to Professor Autumn from Lewis & Clark College.
How geckos manage to keep their feet clean while walking about with sticky feet has remained a puzzle until now. Geckos don't groom their feet, and the adhesive on their toes is much too sticky for dirt to be shaken off. Conventional adhesives like tape just get dirtier and dirtier, but gecko feet actually become cleaner with repeated use.
Autumn's new research found that the microscopic adhesive hairs - or setae - that create the gecko's adhesive qualities are also the first known self-cleaning adhesive. According to Autumn, gecko setae isolated from the gecko become cleaner by themselves


'Frog's glue' could mend knees
from BBC News, World Edition, 8th October 2004
A sticky substance from the skin of frogs could be used to repair human knee joints, scientists believe. Australian researchers have already repaired torn cartilage on the knees of 10 sheep with this natural glue, which frogs use to trap insects…. The University of Adelaide team, with colleagues in Melbourne, is attempting to make its own version….Current synthetic adhesives are strong but they are somewhat toxic and form rigid, non-porous films that can hinder wound healing. Biological glues tend to be too weak to fix parts of the body that have to withstand strong forces and wear and tear. However, the frog glue held the damaged cartilage together well in the sheep. Working with colleagues at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Melbourne, the scientists have characterised a key component of the glue and are now developing a genetically engineered version of this protein.

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Pine cone clothes
from e4 Engineering, 05 October 2004
A new type of 'smart' clothing which adapts to changing temperatures to keep the wearer comfortable is being developed at the University of Bath and the London College of Fashion.
In the design of the material for the clothes, Bath biomimetics specialist Professor Julian Vincent plans to mimic the way that pine cones open and close depending on whether they are dry or wet. Hence the smart garments will consist of a top layer of tiny spikes of water-absorbent material, possibly wool, each only 1/200th of a millimetre wide…..


Turtling along
By Julia Pierce, From e4 Engineering, 10 September 2004
A highly manoeuvrable unmanned underwater vehicle that is easy to control in water too turbulent for other craft could soon be used for mine clearance by the US Navy.
The TransPhibian, from Nekton Research of Durham LLC, North Carolina, is shaped like a turtle and uses flippers that mimic marine creatures' locomotion. It is designed to operate in the choppy water surrounding docks, bridges and in shoreline surf, where other submarines have difficulty maintaining control.
If TransPhibian is washed up on shore by a wave, its four flippers can be used to make it crawl back into the sea. In water, in less than a second it can go from a standstill to making two rotations per second around its long axis………..


Forest fire sensor inspired by nature: Bonn zoologists "copy" a beetle's monitoring device
They are what fire fighters have long been calling for: low-cost and highly sensitive infrared sensors that automatically monitor large forest areas and trigger an early warning in the event of fire. Zoologists at the University of Bonn have taken an important step towards this goal. They have constructed a forest fire sensor which could be produced more cheaply than commercially available infrared detectors, although it is not yet as sensitive. In identifying a principle of measurement previously unknown in nature and in technology, the scientists have taken the idea from a small insect: the jewel beetle, which lays its eggs in the wood of freshly burned trees, is said to be able to detect forest fires from a distance of 80 kilometres. The biologists now want to perform more tests on their little model to determine the limits of this new method of measurement……….
From a University of Bonn Press Release

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Sticky soy stuff
From, Process Engineering, 02 August 2004

Rohm and Haas is to receive a $2 million grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a new generation of adhesives and sealants derived from soybeans and other renewable materials.
The program was one of 22 projects (out of more than 400 total nominations) chosen to participate in the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, a program jointly sponsored by the DOE and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
During the next two years, the company will embark on a research program to use sugars, soybean oil, castor oil, and other biomass resources in place of traditional petrochemical-based materials.


Spend a penny, save a litre
From, Process Engineering, 16 July 2004 By STUART NATHAN
The smallest room may seem to be an odd place for the highest tech, but one of the first
nanotechnology innovations to hit the market is likely to have a major effect on public toilets.
A German firm, aquadry Deutschland, has developed a urinal whose nano-featured surface could dramatically reduce water consumption.
The coating exhibits what's known as the 'lotus effect', where a surface covered with microscopic hair-like structures interacts with the surface tension of water and other liquids. This forces the liquids to separate out into beads on the surface rather than 'wetting' it - that is, spreading out as a film.
Because of this, nothing contained within the liquid, such as bacteria, dirt, and substances which could stain or cause odours, can stick to the surface. The technique is being developed for self-cleaning coatings for building materials and glass, but when the liquid in question is urine, the bacteria and odour-repellant property obviously becomes valuable.................


Plastic from Corn Receives Japanese Food Contact Approval
From a Cargill Dow LLC press release
Annually Renewable Plastic Desired by Japanese Consumers
TOKYO – July 13, 2004 – Market research shows that Japanese consumers want more environmentally sound food packaging solutions. With the recent food contact approval for a plastic made from corn, Japanese shoppers will soon be able to purchase their favourite salads, fish, meats, bakery goods and produce in 100 percent nature-based, “see-through” containers.
Called NatureWorks™ PLA, in June 2004, the material received positive listing.............
Based on prevailing Japanese consumer attitudes, the timing is ideal to introduce branded food packaging that can help lessen dependence on limited fossil fuel resources.................

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Ants avoid traffic jams
From Nature, 4 March 2004 by MICHAEL HOPKIN
Foraging workers push and shove to steer others around bottlenecks.
Less congestion means faster transport of food. When it comes to traffic congestion, ants prefer the no-nonsense approach - they barge others out of the way, forcing them to take an alternative route.
.............The re-routing strategy allows ants to maintain the same flow of food back to the nest even when things start to get crowded................
"similarly simple rules could be used to manage the flow of data through networks such as telephone systems", says Peter Bentley, a computer scientist at University College London. "Congestion is a big issue," he says. "You have to work out the best route for data."
Many scientists rely on the behaviour of ants or other natural systems to give them clues as to how to design computer systems that avoid overcrowded networks.


Sucking energy out of the drain
From Nature, 26 February 2004, by PHILIP BALL
Microbes in wastewater could make a handy household battery.
Bacteria that eat organic matter are already present in waste water. and flushing the toilet could help supply your home with electricity, thanks to a device developed by US researchers: microbial fuel cells. Many researchers are now exploring them as potential sources of cheap power - sometimes in unusual places.
They have shown that electricity can be generated from domestic wastewater, which is full of organic matter from cooking, cleaning or sewage. If the lab prototype can be scaled up to a household version, the team says it could save energy and treat waste for every home.


Bacteria clean up by breathing rust
From, Process Engineering, 30 January 2004, in 'Home'
New insights into how bacteria interact with minerals could help scientists 'design' microorganisms to clean up specific types of toxic waste, according to researchers from Ohio State and Virginia Tech Universities.
The team, including geoscientists from both universities, has found how a particular bacterium, Shewanella oneidensis, attaches itself to particles of iron oxide and uses them to breathe.
Using bacteria to clean up toxic wastes is a long-established technique, but it isn't well understood.

Using genes similar to those of S. oneidensis might allow them to engineer microbes which bind onto iron oxides only in the presence of oil and related waste products.

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Superglue from the sea
Chemists show how mussels get a grip.
From Nature Science Update, 12 January 2004, By MICHAEL HOPKIN
The secret of how mussels glue themselves to rocks, ropes and boats has been unpicked by chemists. The discovery could lead to new surgical adhesives or paints that stop barnacles from sticking to the underside of boats.
Mussels produce a powerful glue to maintain their grip on whatever surface they call home. Researchers have attempted to harness this glue, either by harvesting it from the mussels themselves or by trying to manufacture the protein in bacteria or tobacco plants.........
.........The glue - or a synthetic version of it - would be a valuable asset to surgeons. It is compatible with biological tissue, and forms a strong bond in wet conditions.


Beetles could prove a hit with the aircraft industry
From  Design Engineering, 09 December 2003, in 'Home'
The bombardier beetle defends itself by squirting predators (ants, frogs, spiders) with a high-pressure jet of boiling liquid in a rapid-fire action called pulse combustion.
Professor Tom Eisner at Cornell University in the US discovered that, to do so, the beetle combines hydrogen peroxidase and hydroquinone in a tiny combustion chamber and, when these react, benzoquinone and steam are emitted in a jet at around 100 degrees Centigrade.
Now, scientists at the University of Leeds hope that by studying the mechanism further they can solve a problem that can occasionally with aircraft flying at high altitude - re-igniting a gas turbine aircraft engine which has cut out when the outside air temperature is as low as -50 degrees Centigrade!
In a new three-year project, they will set out to improve understanding of the beetle's unique pulse combustion and nozzle ejection mechanism.


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