Technology Inspired by Nature: A New Method to Preserve and Protect the Earth

Technology Inspired by Nature: A New Method to Preserve and Protect the Earth

by Jueun Yi

Orange County School of the Arts

 

There it was: a used glass pane from a window, 110 pieces of solar cells, and solders. My

mission this summer was to build a 43.25” by 73.75” solar panel for Mr. Danielson. The basic

instruction appeared simple enough since my two main tasks for this project was to solder and to

glue solar cells to a big glass window sill. In doing so, I learned that solar cells collect electrons

from the sunlight which generates electricity into the two wires of the cells. The seemingly

complicated science behind solar panels was quite easy to build. For the majority of the time, I

attached wires to solar cells by heating the solder in between the two items. To my surprise, the

materials for this project were quite easy to obtain. Recycled from a broken door, the glass

window sill was acquired at no cost. Also, while we still had to buy our own solar cells, they

were quite inexpensive.

 

The job was in a word, tedious. I walked away with sores on my hand and a throbbing

headache. The labor appeared to be in vain until I realized what I had actually accomplished­­

photovoltaics. Normally, electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels such as coals, natural gas,

or petroleum. This process, however, creates air pollution through the emission of greenhouse

gasses. Solar panels, on the other hand, generate electricity by borrowing ideas from

photosynthesis in plants. Just as plants naturally create energy by receiving sunlight through a

process called photosynthesis, solar panels exercise a process called photovoltaics (Benyus 59).

This process works exactly like photosynthesis as solar cells absorb energy from the sunlight.

Inspired by nature, this phenomenon has changed the way I approached science.

 

When I realize I had applied biomimicry to create the solar panel, I was fascinated.

Biomimicry is a field of study currently being spearheaded by Janine Benyus (Benyus 4).

Although this field is relatively new, nature­inspired technology has been evident throughout

history. One of the earliest examples can be reflected in the study of birds to make human flight

possible. Our world is an array of intricately designed organisms which display intelligent and

eco­friendly designs. Unfortunately, biomimicry is not taught at schools. There are components

which we naturally learn in biology and environmental science class but only a few researchers

dedicate their whole lives to this important field. In our rapidly developing society, engineers are

constantly thinking about ways to improve and innovate models that will change the world. The

answer has been within our grasp all along­­ it is all around us in the ecosystem.

 

In recent times, more scientists are turning to nature for smart design. In 2005,

Mercedes­Benz sought to create the most efficient, safe, and maneuverable vehicle, the first of

its kind. After years of research, the Mercedes­Benz engineers decided to model their car based

on a boxfish. Instead of having a normal circular shape, this car is rectangular reflecting the

stabilization properties of a boxfish in rolling water despite its bulky shape (Kozlov 325).

Interesting enough, the simple difference in the car’s shape drastically reduced the car’s weight

and its drag coefficient, which made the vehicle more aerodynamic just like the boxfish (Kozlov

323)! By altering a few key elements of a traditional car, Mercedes­Benz could design a new car

that required less gas emission. The Bionic, Mercedes­Benz’s first bionic car, has been hailed

and criticized for its innovation but nonetheless, it is a clear application of biomimicry which

will require further developments.

 

Another great example of biomimicry is the Kindle. Most electronic devices use LCD

screens which requires a substantial amount of power and light. However, the Kindle does not

require any backlighting. This saves 33.7 percent of energy and 94 percent of carbon dioxide

than an LCD display ("How Biomimicry Is Inspiring Human Innovation"). The Kindle would not

be what it is today without “the cerulean wing of a butterfly, the ruby throat of a hummingbird,

and the rainbow flash of a tropical fish” ("How Biomimicry Is Inspiring Human Innovation").

This nature­inspired invention is just as functional and affordable as a tablet with an LCD screen.

The Kindle proved that biomimetic products can appeal to the masses and conserve the

environment. Today, nature continues to inspire as worms have inspired a new technique for

attaching skin grafts, the kangaroo’s “bouncy” qualities have improved leg functions in robots,

and the kingfisher has resolved the harsh sounds of the Japanese bullet train ("Biomimicry:What

Would Nature Do?"). Truly, environmentally­friendly practices are made possible when

scientists take a moment to observe the natural world that surrounds us.

 

In the past, technicians and engineers have created inventions without thinking about its

impact on the environment. While it is impressive how much humans have accomplished in the

last century, technology has left devastating effects on the environment. With the onset of the

Industrial Revolution, motor vehicles became the leading cause of air pollution while toxic

chemicals and electronic waste have contaminated the ocean (Strayer 828). Unfortunately, once

the damage is done, the ecosystem cannot completely return to its natural state. As such, greater

efforts to conserve the environment is needed. Through the practice of biomimicry, however,

technology can cause less harm on the environment and improve its effectiveness through smart

design found in nature. As with all technology, constant improvements must be made. While

solar panels have become a popular alternate energy source, it is much more expensive to build

than regular electricity. The materials used to create solar panels in comparison to light bulbs are

much more expensive and less readily accessible that most people do not even consider using

them. Similarly, the bionic car remains as a concept car because it is not as practical or

cost­effective or deemed safe as regular cars. While many biomimicry inventions are ideal in

nature, further research efforts are needed before the field can gain the notoriety it deserves.

Fortunately, the natural environment around us offers us limitless ideas for courageous

exploration.

 

Bibliography

Benyus, Janine. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. New York: Morrow, 1997. Print.

“Biomimicry: What Would Nature Do?”. Industry Week 263.11 (2014): 12. Print.

"How Biomimicry Is Inspiring Human Innovation." Smithsonian. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.

Kozlov, Andrei, et al. "Bio­Inspired Design: Aerodynamics Of Boxfish." Procedia Engineering

105.The 6th BSME International Conference on Thermal Engineering (2015): 323­328.

ScienceDirect. Web. 30 Jan. 2016.

Martín­Palma, R. J., and A. Lakhtakia. Engineered Biomimicry. Amsterdam: Elsevier LTD,

  1. Print.

Sertic, Genevieve. “Nature's Blueprint: Solar Cells Inspired by Plant Cells." Yale Scientific

Magazine. Yale Scientific, 4 Nov. 2015. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.

Strayer, Robert. Ways of the World: A Global History with Sources for AP. Boston: Bedford/St.

Martin's, 2013. Print.

Vierra, Stephanie. “Biomimicry: Designing to Model Nature." WBDG. National Institute of

Building Sciences, 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.

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