BioMAGIC – How Plants and Animals Help us Design and Invent

Pictured above is the kingfisher that was used as inspiration for the Japanese train. Photo Via Pexels

Biomimicry is a very broad term with many meanings. If I was to explain it simply, it is natural solutions to everyday things that produce sustaining effects. “What could those everyday things be?” you might ask. Well, that’s kind of the whole point of the article. Although biomimicry hasn’t always worked, the following examples are the ones that have worked best. 

Can you guess what football players and burdock plants have in common? No? Yeah, me neither. However, a 1941 Swiss engineer by the name of George de Mestral noticed that we could use those annoying clinging seed pods that stick to you on hikes to our advantage. This came out to be modern day velcro that is used for things like football pads. By mimicking the “J” shape of the prickly seeds to hook in and hold into the fuzzy cotton-like substance, this Swiss GOAT invented velcro. 

But it doesn’t stop there; Switzerland isn’t any match for the Japanese mastermind of man, Eiji Nakatisu. Eiji was an average man, working a 9 to 5 for his local railroad company. However, when an average man returns home from a long day at work, he may have a drink and fall asleep in front of the tv. Instead, Nakatisu would spend his time watching birds. His favorite was the kingfisher because he was entranced by its splash-free and quiet entry into his local lake. His bird obsession started to interfere with his job and this was not good for the company —it was amazing! JR West Railway Company then constructed a bullet train 10 percent faster, with 15 percent less electricity use, and 100 percent inspired by the wonderful kingfisher’s aerodynamics and elegant beak. 

Now while Nakatisu might have struck gold with that wonderful form of biomimicry, it was no match for our very own Stanford geeks. Right out of a Mission Impossible movie, Elliot Hawkes created a special agent gadget that can allow him to scale glass walls using high tech gloves. “So how did this come to be?” you might ask. Well, instead of going to frat parties, Hawkes would study geckos. Geckos are able to climb vertically because of their intricate feet which are able to apply pressure evenly across the wall and create a suction to the wall that is easily removed when moving. So being the man that he is, Hawkes went ahead and created gecko feet for humans using all sorts of adhesives, polymers, suctions and spring systems. Maybe summiting buildings like Tom Cruise is in our future! 

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