Copying Life’s Marvelous Designs
Toddlers tumble and bump their heads. Older children fall from trees and off bicycles. Athletes crash into one another on the playing field. Motorists have countless road accidents. Yet, in spite of all these falls, bumps, and crashes, we often escape without serious injury. We tend to take the toughness and resilience of our bodies for granted. But as scientists are beginning to discover, from our bones to our skin, we are the product of truly brilliant designs.
THE combination of strength and toughness—with relatively light weight—permeates nature. Tender saplings push through cracks in concrete and rock and force the cracks wide open as they grow into healthy trees. In turn, trees can withstand winds that topple power poles and rip houses apart. Woodpeckers bore into wood and subject their heads to forces that would turn an ordinary brain to pulp. Crocodile and alligator hides deflect spears, arrows, and even bullets. (Compare Job 41:1, 26.) Such things have both awed and baffled humans for thousands of years.
Over the past 40 years, major leaps in technology have given scientists powerful new tools to use in studying the secrets behind these designs, most of which are hidden deep within the living cell. On this microscopic scale, the quality of design is truly breathtaking and staggering in complexity. The aim of science, however, is not just to crack the secrets underlying nature’s remarkable materials but to copy them—at least in general principle. So promising is this field of study that it has led to the creation of a new science called biomimetics, from the Greek biʹos, meaning “life,” and miʹme·sis, meaning “imitation.”
Biomimetics Promises a Better World
“Biomimetics is the study of biological structures [and] their functions,” explains the book Biomimetics: Design and Processing of Materials. It adds that this study is for the purpose of ‘stimulating new ideas and developing these ideas into synthetic systems similar to those found in biological systems.’
Scientist Stephen Wainwright says that “biomimetics will engulf molecular biology and replace it as the most challenging and important biological science of the 21st Century.” Professor Mehmet Sarikaya claims: “We are on the brink of a materials revolution that will be on a par with the Iron Age and the Industrial Revolution. We are leaping forward into a new era of materials. Within the next century, I think biomimetics will significantly alter the way in which we live.”
In fact, it has already begun to alter our world, as we shall see. But first, let us look briefly at a few of the as-yet-unfathomed marvels scientists are busy studying. We will also examine the sobering implications behind the word “design” and see how these give meaning to the amazing world around us.