“Go to the ant, thou sluggard” the proverb advises, and scientists today are increasingly searching out interesting animals and plants to gain design insights that will help them create novel materials and compounds. This new field of biomimetics has several facets to it. Some workers mimic natural methods of manufacture of chemical compounds to create new ones (a waterproof glue has been developed by studying the natural adhesive produced by molluscs; current research is trying to create a pollution-free water-based paint by mimicking the way insects’ wings grow and dry). Others imitate mechanisms found in nature (Velcro is said to have been created as a copy of the hooks in natural burrs; new strong but light materials have come from studying the structure of bone). Yet others learn new principles from, say, the flocking behaviour of birds, or the emergent behaviour of bees and ants. The aim is to study the natural processes as a starting point, gain insights and then improve on their performance, which is often slow or susceptible to extremes of temperature.
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