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 tej kohli
4 January 2017

How Nature Guides Science: The Ever-Evolving World of Bioinspiration

The natural world is an incredibly beautiful thing - and we are still discovering fascinating new things about the ways in which it works. The thing that links an entrepreneur like Tej Kohli (net worth around $6 billion/ £4.73 billion), and the scientists staffing the Research Department of the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute, is awe at what nature can achieve.

Most people are aware that scientific discoveries are drawn from nature, but many persist in seeing those two worlds as opposites – when in reality, they are two sides of the same coin. When scientists discover a new engineering technique, medical treatment, or law of physics, they know that nature already contained this process – they have only worked out its mechanisms. For instance, Tej Kohli knows just how complex a structure like the eye, which most people take for granted, really is – and always has been, even when human scientists knew nothing about it.

Recently, there have been several new developments in the scientific world which researchers are attributing specifically to inspiration from nature. This dynamic has become known as “bioinspiration.” We were knocked off our feet by these in particular:

 

Lithium Sulphur Battery Inspired by the Human Small Intestine

A collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the Beijing Institute of Technology has solved the problem of lithium sulphur batteries leaking active material.

Scientists have long been searching for a way to replace current lithium ion batteries with lithium sulphur, because the latter last up to five times as long. But they were thwarted by the batteries’ habit of losing active material to wear and tear – until this team came up with the idea of using tiny nano-oxide wires, inspired by the waving protrusions called “villi” which line our small intestines, to catch the material.

They’ve already proved that this technique can work – now they just need to get it to market!

 

Robot Inspired by Bush Babies’ High Jumps

Bush babies’ ability to store energy in their tendons lets them jump much higher than they could using their muscles alone. The tree-dwelling mammals are on average around 7.5 inches tall (around 19 centimetres), but they can jump up to 8.5 metres – nearly 45 times their height! US scientists have created a robot which uses a motor-driven spring to mimic the bush baby’s energy-filled crouch.

 

Adhesive Bandages inspired by Gecko’s Feet

MIT researchers were inspired by geckos’ sticky feet to create very strong, non-inflammatory, 100% biodegradable and completely adaptable biorubber bandages.Tk_Image_01

The tiny lizard’s feet are covered in tiny hair-like structures which let it hang like SpiderMan off sheer walls or even ceilings. The gecko-inspired adhesive causes far less damage to sensitive tissue – for instance that on wounds or burns – than traditional medical sutures and staples. Jeffrey Karp, the inventor, is now known as a major voice in the field of bioinspiration.

Few scientists expect their fields to ever stop discovering fascinating new things about the natural world. From the structure of atoms to the effects of climate change, from a rat’s immune system to a rainforest’s self-preservation techniques, there is always more to learn – and we hope there will be many more incredible bioinspired discoveries to come.