Scientists, engineers and architects are looking to the natural world to solve problems in their fields—and it is yielding astounding results.
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Humpback whales improve wind power. Birds silence bullet trains. Sharks stop deadly bacteria. On the surface, these statements seem strange and unrelated. Yet these odd-couple pairings are becoming commonplace in everyday life through the design philosophy known as biomimicry.
When faced with a problem—such as how to improve energy efficiency in a home or desalinate water—biomimicry advocates examine how these same issues are addressed in nature. The Biomimicry Institute website calls it “an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.”
One such example is improving wind turbines by modeling them after the pectoral fins of humpback whales. These creatures’ fins are uniquely shaped for lift and maneuverability. They are equipped with specialized bumps on the front edges called tubercles. Bloomberg reported that adding rows of similar bumps to turbine blades reduced drag and noise, and boosted the power harnessed by 20 percent.
Nature also inspired Japan’s iconic Shinkansen bullet train. The vehicle’s early design—which had a bluntly rounded nose like that of a bullet—was capable of reaching incredibly high speeds, but it encountered a problem. Every time it would enter a tunnel, it would compress the air in the confined space and create a loud boom when it exited the other side. The nation’s strict sound pollution laws threatened to stop the train in its tracks.
A team member on the project found an unlikely source of inspiration: the kingfisher. The bird has a specialized beak that enables it to dive into water with virtually no splash. Modeling the front end of the train after the kingfisher beak not only reduced the problem of excessive train noise, but it also decreased energy usage by over 10 percent.
Colorado-based Sharklet Technologies looked to sharkskin to help healthcare facilities fight the spread of aggressive antibiotic-resistant infections such as MRSA. Sharks are the only slow-moving marine animal that does not facilitate algae growth on its skin. The company mimicked the diamond-shaped pattern evident from a magnified image of the creature’s skin and placed it on textured plastic.
The first Sharklet prototype reduced algae settlement by 85 percent compared to a chemically identical smooth surface. Similar results were found when it was tested against bacterial colonies. When applied to high-touch zones throughout hospitals and medical labs and devices, the new surface greatly reduced the risk of spreading infection—and the need for the use of toxic chemicals, antibiotics and antimicrobials to keep such areas clean.
The idea of biomimicry is nothing new. In the 1940s, nature inspired Velcro, a familiar fastener, which was fashioned after the common burdock burr. Centuries earlier, Leonardo da Vinci said, “Those who are inspired by a model other than nature…are laboring in vain” (Leonardo: The Artist and the Man). While he was referring to painting, nature did inspire many of the designs for his inventions.
Even though the idea of copying nature has been around for centuries, it is truly coming into its own today—opening up incredible possibilities for the future.
Often, applying principles seen in nature results in products and structures that require fewer raw materials to build and create less waste in the long run. This contemporary approach becomes more important when considering that while man has generally been successful at creating solutions to problems, there are usually negative side effects as a result. Solving one problem inevitably creates another.
Biomimicry can be used to break this endless cycle. One of the most promising ways to do this is to copy nature’s closed-loop sustainability. Instead of using and abusing Earth’s resources, we can copy natural ecosystems that were designed to sustain themselves.
Architect Michael Pawlyn explained this approach in a lecture delivered at a TED conference in London: “The way we tend to use resources is we extract them, we turn them into short-life products and then dispose of them. Nature works very differently. In ecosystems, the waste from one organism becomes the nutrient for something else in that system. And there are some examples of projects that have deliberately tried to mimic ecosystems.”
For instance, a project called Seawater Greenhouse was inspired by the African fog-basking darkling beetle. The Biomimicry Institute stated that the insect “lives in one of the driest deserts in the world, the Namib on the southwest coast of Africa, but obtains all of the water it needs from ocean fog due to the unique surface of its back.” Each morning, the creature aims microscopic bumps on its back, which are designed to attract water, toward the oncoming fog. The water then flows into its mouth.
Mr. Pawlyn explained the success of the greenhouse: “This is a greenhouse designed for arid coastal regions, and the way it works is that you have this whole wall of evaporator grills, and you trickle seawater over that so that wind blows through, it picks up a lot of moisture and is cooled in the process. So inside it’s cool and humid, which means the plants need less water to grow. And then at the back of the greenhouse, it condenses a lot of that humidity as freshwater in a process that is effectively identical to the beetle.”
Upon completion, Mr. Pawlyn stated that the first Seawater Greenhouse “was producing slightly more freshwater than it needed for the plants inside.” He stated that this excess water was spread on the surrounding area, which soon greened up a section of desert area and turned “barren land back into biologically productive land.”
Allowing man to positively impact nature—while also more fully enjoying its benefits—is perhaps the greatest advantage of biomimicry. It becomes a testament to the completeness of the entire system that surrounds us. Each time the natural world is used as a blueprint for solving man’s problems, the benefits are astonishing.
Take a step back in your mind. For manmade objects, design implies there is a mind behind it. Your favorite armchair, the car you use for your daily commute, and the watch on your wrist all had teams of designers working on them. They labored to answer a series of questions: What material will make this the most comfortable? How can we make this more energy efficient? How can this be made more stylish, durable and useful?
These and many similar problems were all thought through using brainpower and critical thinking. Clearly, every chair, car and watch has a mind behind it. In addition, all of the biomimicry products mentioned earlier also had scientists, architects and engineers behind them.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that there is also a mind behind natural wonders.
The Bible plainly identifies this mind: “Because that which may be known of God is manifest [obvious] in them; for God has showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20).
This passage reveals that God can be known through things that are created and seen. By studying the natural world, we can better understand His mind.
The Moffatt translation of the Bible makes this verse even plainer: “…for ever since the world was created, His invisible nature, His everlasting power and divine being, have been quite perceptible in what He has made. So they have no excuse.”
Every elegant “design solution” found in nature clearly points to a Creator.
In ancient Israel, King David knew this as well. He wrote: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament [the sky] shows His handiwork” (Psa. 19:1). The king looked to Creation to understand the scientific laws governing the universe and the Designer who made it all.
Verses 2-3 expand on this: “Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.”
David watched both day and night to learn everything he could about planetary orbits. Verses 4-6 state: “Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them has He set a tabernacle [place] for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices as a strong man to run a race. His [the sun’s] going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit [revolution] unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.”
These verses—along with many other Old Testament scriptures—indicate that David would have known the Earth was rotating. He poetically explained its 24-hour cycle by detailing the unbreakable relationship between day and night. He also understood that periods of light change with the four seasons. The king knew that there was no escaping the laws God set in motion.
For David, the vastness of the atmosphere and space—in all of its beauty, order and precision—were clear signs of an incredible Being working behind the scenes. The entire system works together with multiple processes all complementing each other. This is why he was inspired to state twice that “the fool has said in his heart [mind], there is no God” (Psa. 14:1; 53:1).
The foolishness of refusing to believe in God has grown over the years. With increased understanding of the order and complexity of the universe comes more and more proof there is a Creator at the helm.
A 2014 Wall Street Journal article reported: “Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart.”
The need for a God grows when one looks at the universe itself. The article continued: “The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all.”
Proof of God continues to mount. Professor of mathematics Dr. John Lennox of the University of Oxford wrote that “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator God, who designed the universe for a purpose, gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here” (God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?).
This evidence, coupled with the endless wonders seen in nature, all point to God. His Creation allows man to better understand His mind—how He thinks. It shows He is a God of order, simplicity and elegance. Just as man thinks through design problems, the Creator did the same.
Yet God solving “design problems” in nature was really just Him creatively employing the laws of science—physical laws He laid out from the beginning.
Physical laws that govern time and space, such as gravity, were set in order since Creation. Everything we do in our physical existence must operate within their confines.
These are immutable laws. For example, if you attempt to “break” the law of gravity by jumping off a tall building, it will not end well. From an early age, skinned knees, bruises and even broken bones teach us to abide by this physical law.
Yet, unknown to most, God also made spiritual laws governing how to live. This is why Psalm 19 talks about the physical world and neatly transitions into the spiritual. Recall that in verses 1-6, King David wrote about the heavens, day, night, sun and Earth.
Then in verses 7-8 he stated: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul [keeping the law is life-changing]: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple [you can count on what God says]. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart [keeping them brings joy]: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes [keeping them opens a person’s eyes to see his ultimate purpose].”
God’s perfect laws, statutes, commandments and testimonies were put into place for us. They were made for our benefit! Following them yields positive effects—ensuring we lead happy, healthy, productive lives.
Yet the same Being also inspired the apostle Paul to record that love is the fulfilling of the Law (Rom. 13:10).
Paul was not talking about the laws associated with the four fundamental forces of nature—gravity, electromagnetics, strong force or weak force—he was referring to the fundamental laws of God!
The Ten Commandments overarch all of God’s laws. They provide a blueprint for how humans should govern their thoughts and actions. (See Exodus 20 and Matthew 22:36-40.) The first four, which start with, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” can be summarized as how we should manage our relationship with God. The remaining six teach us how to behave in relationships with our fellow man—including directives to honor parents and avoid adultery, murder and stealing.
Together, the Ten Commandments describe how we should practice love toward God and man. These are the foundational guide to all other laws mentioned throughout Scripture. Put another way, every other rule or guideline fits into these 10 by design.
These spiritual laws have been in place since man drew his first breath. Romans 7:12 states, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment, holy, and just, and good.”
Verse 14 adds that it is “spiritual.” Just as man can understand God’s mind and character through physical laws, he can also understand the Creator through spiritual laws. In other words, God is holy, just, good and spiritual. He is also eternal (Psa. 111:3) and perfect (19:7).
Again, these laws reveal the character and mind of the One who created them and put them into motion. By applying them in your life, you can better understand your Creator—and become more like Him.
The beginning of the Bible reveals that man was fashioned after God’s image and likeness (Gen. 1:26). Yet we were made incomplete—again, by design!
Humanity is on a totally different wavelength than God when it comes to spiritual matters (Eph. 2:2). We continually attempt to solve our biggest problems through our own analysis and experimentation within Creation while denying the God who made it in the first place. As a result of not following His Law, man has experienced countless negative consequences over millennia (Rom. 6:23). This has also led many to completely miss out on understanding the reason for their existence (Isa. 59:1-2).
Yet you can know why you were born. It begins with recognizing a fundamental principle of human nature. God summarizes this in Isaiah 55:8-9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Without turning to God, we cannot understand the right way to live! The physical side of this can be seen in man’s record of pollution and destruction of this planet. Yet by turning to God’s Creation through principles such as biomimicry, man is discovering that God’s Way leads us to live more sustainably.
The same is true spiritually. Without God’s Law, man’s record is one of war, hatred, vanity, jealousy, lust and greed. No good thing comes from these motivations!
Imagine if everyone sought out God’s Way in their lives. If they followed Jesus Christ’s instruction in Matthew 22:37 and Mark 12:30, the first four commandments—love toward God—would become commonplace. As a result, everyone would understand the Family of God and their place in it. There would be no other forms of religion or accompanying hatred between them. Foul language would never be heard again. People everywhere would come together in peace and safety to worship God on His chosen day.
What if everyone kept the other six commandments and showed love toward his neighbor? Children would follow the rules while living with happily married, faithful parents. War and terrorism would be a thing of the past. Never again would anyone’s home be broken into, nor would we ever hear government propaganda. False advertising would become ancient history. People would be content and satisfied, never again feeling compelled to “keep up with the Jones’s.”
To most, the above scenarios seem idealistic and impossible. Yet think: If God created laws for His Creation to follow, it must be possible. Therefore, so would be the resultant effects.
While you were created incomplete, you need not remain this way! With God’s help, you can discover the final missing design element.
To do so, you must be willing to put aside ways that seem right and admit that they only produce bad results (Prov. 14:12). This means following the blueprints crafted by the original Designer and getting to know Him.
The apostle John explained exactly how to do this, “And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” (I John 2:3). Plainly stated, to know God we must keep His Law!
God is calling some and revealing His wonderful truth to a few now (John 6:44). Some are being given the opportunity to understand the Mind that created them. These individuals are now living the way of peace, happiness, prosperity and abundant living!
Our Creator wants us to know His will—His thoughts! He desires for “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4).
Every day, we experience the wonderful results of physical Creation, and are governed by its laws. Increasingly, man is discovering the keys to perfect design and function and putting them to work through biomimicry. We study nature, copy it, and harness its powerful blueprints to solve our most challenging physical problems—all in hopes of enhancing our existence. Yet the big picture is completely overlooked.
The only way we will ever solve our worst problems—which are spiritual in nature—is to start seeing the “forest for the trees.” We must study, copy and put God’s ultimate spiritual Law to the test. We must determine to get to know the Mind that designed and created everything.