Next generation DVDs inspired the humble Mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimps, in a study from the University of Bristol published in Nature Photonics, are found on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and have the most complex vision systems known to science. They can see in twelve colours and can distinguish between different forms of polarized light, the human eye can see in only three colours.

Special light-sensitive cells in mantis shrimp eyes act as quarter-wave plates which can rotate the plane of the oscillations or polarisation, of a light wave as it travels through its eye. This is what makes it possible for mantis shrimps to convert linearly polarized light to circularly polarized light and vice versa. Manmade quarter-wave plates perform this essential function in CD and DVD players. While man made systems only work well for one colour of light, the natural mechanism in the mantis shrimp’s eyes works almost perfectly across the whole visible spectrum – from near-ultra violet to infra-red.

The discovery could help us make better optical devices in the future using liquid crystals that have been chemically engineered to mimic the properties of the cells in the mantis shrimp’s eye.

From an original artcile by Hannah Johnson of the University of Bristol

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Foods with edible coverings, nothing new there!



We package our food in all sorts of non-biodegradable solutions from wax coated cardboard, layers of plastics, and other materials. Some of the better solutions come from harvesting substances from nature, but many still come from pulling oil from deep in the earth, processing it and creating plastics. Nature however, as you might expect if you have read this blog before, encases its foods such as fruits and nuts in edible or biodegradable coverings.

WikiCell Designs is taking that idea from nature and creating edible packaging for many everyday food products such as juices, mousses, and emulsions such as ice cream, cheese, and yogurt. Wikicells enclose food and drink inside soft skins that are entirely comprised of natural food particles held together by nutritive ions, and generally protect the soft skins with hard shells that are either completely edible (like grape, apple, and orange peels) or are biodegradable (like the husk and shell of a coconut).

The idea was imagined by David Edwards of Harvard and developed with designer François Azambourg. Mimicking nature’s packaging was the subject of a spring 2003 article in Whole Earth magazine by Janine Benyus and Dayna Baumeister, Packaging Tips from the Porcupine Fish (and other Wild Packagers).

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Could Geckos give the answer to Spider-Man?

Have you ever wanted to walk up walls or across ceilings like Spider-Man?

Gecko Tape may be the way to do it. The tape is a material covered with nanoscopic hairs that mimic those found on the feet of gecko lizards. These millions of tiny, flexible hairs exert van der Waals forces that provide a powerful adhesive effect. Applications include underwater and space station uses, as well as Spider-Man suits!







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Solving The World’s Water Crisis With A Beetle?

Here’s a cool bit of Biomimicry created from a beetle called the Namib Desert Beetle which has proved its resiliency and developed the ability to provide itself with water in a desert! The beetle uses its back to extract a water supply from morning fogs. Wind pushes the moisture into the peaks of the beetle’s back until enough condensation builds up to form droplets of water.


Now a couple of Boston College graduates are banking on a beetle to help solve the world’s clean water crisis by applying Biomimcry techniques to develop a product to recreate the chemical properties of the beetle’s back. By creating designs that support condensation, they may have created the ability to be a sustainable method of harvesting drinking water from the atmosphere! If true, bearing in mind by 2030 water will be worth more than oil and the fact that the third world has on average 20x less clean drinking water than is required this could solve major drinking water issues around some of the worlds most populated areas as well as prove commercially viable. Deckard Sorensen and Miguel Galvez are hoping to make a difference through their start-up company NBD Nanotechnologies.

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A New Design For Drawing Pins Made By Biomimicry

Invented more than a century ago in the UK, the simply designed drawing pin is hard to know how it could be improved… unless you stick a finger into a box of these pins to try to pick one out just one from the pack, they hurt!

Designer Toshi Fukaya has just made the pins just a bit safer. He redesigned the thumbtack using a biomimetic model: a cat or it’s claws, to be specific. A cat can expose or withdraw his claws, and so now can Fukaya’s new biomimetic design of a drawing pin. Winner of a 2011 Red Dot Design Concept award, his design is covered by a hollow silicone sheath, the pin is not exposed until it’s pressed onto a hard surface like a board or a wall. A hundred year old design made safer by biomimetic design!Image

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Concentrated Solar Power

We’ve all seen concentrated solar power (CSP) plants — those rows and rows of shiny mirror heliostats all crowded around a 100-metre-high pillar, like worshippers peering up at a towering god.

The orchestra of mirrors track the sun throughout the day, bouncing rays up at the central tower where the heat is concentrated, converted into electricity and piped into the national grid. Only a small handful of these plants — like PS10, in the Spanish desert region of Andalucia — exist around the world.

Their growth is restricted thanks to their sizeable footprints. “Concentrated solar thermal energy needs huge areas,” says Alexander Mitsos, the Rockwell International assistant professor of mechanical engineering, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“If we’re talking about going to 100 percent or even 10 percent renewables, we will need huge areas, so we better use them efficiently,” he explains.

Mitsos and colleagues have come up with a new design for CSPs that reduces the required amount of land while boosting the amount of sunlight the heliostat mirrors collect. In perhaps the most beautiful example of biomimicry yet, it’s inspired by sunflowers.

The researchers at MIT, in collaboration with RWTH Aachen University in Germany, looked at the layout of current CSP plants. They put spaces between the mirrors and staggered them like seats in a movie theatre. This pattern results in shadows being cast on some mirrors, reducing the reflection of light.

Mitsos’ lab developed a computational model to evaluate the efficiency of heliostat layouts — the system divides each mirror into discrete sections and accurately calculates the amount of light each section reflects at any given moment.

Mitsos and colleague Corey Noone used numerical optimisation to fiddle with the placement of the heliostats. They brought the fanned-out layout closer together, building a spiral-like pattern that reduces land by ten percent without affecting efficiency.

Next they looked to nature to improve the design further. The florets of a sunflower — small flowers at the centre of the petals, which mature into seeds — are arranged in a stunning spiral fashion that’s impressed mathematicians for years.

The arrangement — a form of Fermat spiral — has each floret turned at a “golden angle” – about 137 degrees – with respect to its neighbour.

The researchers twisted each mirror to be 137 degrees relative to its neighbour and it made a huge difference. The optimised layout takes up 20 percent less space than the current layout of the PS10 in Spain, and even increased total efficiency.

The researchers have published their results in the journal Solar Energy, and have recently filed for patent protection on the design.

Written by Mark Brown

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The Coolest Cases of Biomimicry – Velcro

The most famous example of biomimicry was the invention of Velcro brand fasteners. Invented in 1941 by Swiss engineer George de Mestral, who took the idea from the burrs that stuck tenaciously to his dog’s hair.

Under the microscope he noted the tiny hooks on the end of the burr’s spines that caught anything with a loop – such as clothing, hair or animal fur. The 2-part Velcro fastener system uses strips or patches of a hooked material opposite strips or patches of a loose-looped weave of nylon that holds the hooks.

How many times do you see this in every day life?

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