Building and engineering creates the man made world that surrounds us. Outside of human made infrastructure and interference, nature has created its own sustainable environment, where organisms have evolved to best fit their habitat and niche. Relative to the existence of the Earth, humans have only been alive for a short time, and have only had this time to develop our man made environment.

Human Challenges and the Natural Environment


Only recently have scientist and engineers directed their focus of human challenges to solutions found in the natural environment. This concept is known as Biomimicry, and is often defined as finding sustainable solutions through emulating natures time tested patterns and strategies. On November 30 we had guest speaker, Francesca Bertone, come and present to our class the applications of Biomimicry, and her as well as her husband’s role in the field. Her husband, Jay Harman is the author of the book The Shark’s Paintbrush, and has directed his life around his fascination of the patterns found in nature, especially involving the naturally occurring spiral found all over Earth. Together they have developed practical, and sustainable products that have revolutionized the way we approach design.

The Concept of Biomimicry


While complex in design and development, the concept of Biomimicry takes two simple forms. The first is finding a interesting, efficient and sustainable practice in the natural world, and then developing a product that mimics this practice for application. For example, Jay Harman was fascinated with the reoccurring spirals he found in nature and decided to develop a spiral mimicking those he had researched. He then dove into the challenges that face human design to find a practical application for his spiral, and finally found that water tanks suffer from differing water temperature and algae growth.

Solving Problems with Biomimicry


His spiral design mimicking natures, was put into place in water tanks to efficiently mix the water, allowing for a low energy and cost solution to man’s engineering problem. The second form of Biomimicry is defining a problem faced by human design, and then entering the world of nature to find a solution. Our guest speaker Francesca Bertone, brought our class to the attention of ship hauls, and their problem of barnacle and algae growth. This problem for ship hauls causes hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance, and needed a solution. Scientists again took the Biomimicry approach to solving this problem. Eventually they identified the solutions in shark skin, which never collects barnacles or algae. Engineers discovered with an electron microscope that the sharks skin had microscopic ridge patterns that attributed to the shark’s uncovered skin. This pattern was not only utilized to solve the ship haul problem, it was also developed into a self cleaning paint, as well as various other sustainable applications.

Biomimicry and MSEL Class of 2017


Moving forward, the MarinSEL Engineering class of 2017 is planning on building play houses for children. Even though they may not be real houses, we can still look to the advantages Biomimicry presents us when designing these infrastructures. Applications like heating, cooling, and lighting could potentially be areas for our class to implement aspects of nature to create a sustainable building.


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