Biomimetics and Biomimicry in Engineering

Posts Tagged ‘biomimetics’

The Future Engineer podcast engineer

In Seminars and Keynotes on 2015/02/10 at 11:23 am

STEM XX 016 episode is on the importance of multidisciplinary engineering, the power of positive thinking and biomimetics – learning from nature to solve our technical problems.

If you have ~30min to spare, have a listen and please leave comments below and tell me what you think. Thanks!

You can listen to it here and download it here.

A direct copy is second rate

In Comment on 2014/01/09 at 11:12 am

I was browsing a book published in 1998 by Claus Mattheck ‘Design in Nature: Learning from Trees’ and this quote reminded me of the importance of understanding the word ‘biomimetics’ not as face value (a direct copy from nature) but as ‘nature to inspire a better world’

The problem is that direct copies of natural structures are seldom suitable for service, and so this gives rise to a new task: to create a method which will deliver components of real biological design quality as regards light-weight properties and durability without always ending up with the dog’s femur, tiger’s tooth or bird’s wing, but which also can produce a crankshaft exhibiting exactly the high-quality features of biological design.”

You can read more about Claus Mattheck here.

Embedded Intelligence

In Comment on 2014/01/07 at 7:36 pm

Embedded Intelligence means greater productivity, connectivity and efficiency.

Smarter products and systems for a smarter life.

A successful Embedded Intelligence application is one that we don’t even realise is there.

There is more to Embedded Intelligence than a sensor with code that processes acquired data. Embedded Intelligence is the ability of a product, process or service to reflect on its own operational performance, usage load or in relation to end-user or environment.

This is facilitated by information collected by sensors and data processed locally or remotely to yield understanding/insight

e.g.  A manufacturing production line that never breaks down, or has no unintended stoppages for whatever reason.

Nature gives us great examples of embedded intelligence in ecosystems and organisms. How demographics regulate in relation to the amount of resources and space available to the population. How we sweat to cool down, or faint when our brain is at risk (and shuts down to avoid any major damage). All these are processes so embedded in our primal brain that we don’t even have to be aware of what’s going on to react that way.

Learning from that deep hard-wiring and harnessing the power of the info collection and processing to embedded in our man-made processes open new venues to creating a more intelligent, efficient, safer world.

Fibonacci magic

In Comment on 2013/11/18 at 12:01 am

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377…

Arthur Benjamin takes us through this inspiring maths class on the wonder of Fibonacci numbers, and how patterns in nature are formed.


When you build a rectangle using the Fibonacci numbers as side length, you obtain this:


And the ratio length over base gives you the Golden Ratio, thought of the guide for aesthetics and emotional design (e.g. Apple products have this their length/base ratio, have you noticed?)

Eating fractals

In Comment on 2013/09/04 at 10:30 am

Romanesco has an interesting texture, and it is form that makes it the special member of the broccoli family.



It is a fractal vegetable: the smallest cone is replicated in shape by the cone which groups mini-cones, and this cone is part of a set of cones that forms another cone, … and so on, until you get the whole plant.


Detail of fractal structure

More on fractal food here and here


Pattern of growth [1]

Ref [1]: ‘Cult of Romanesco’ link


Learning from natural ‘sandwich’ structures

In Info on 2013/07/16 at 10:28 am
porcupine quill

porcupine quill

The porcupine quill is a quite interesting material. A pretty large shear modulus, flexible in 3-pt bending tests, but very stiff in the longitudinal direction, which serves well as a defensive weapon.

It is surprisingly lightweight, so the first thought is for a sandwich structure of different materials, but what type of structure?

The photos below show images of a longitudinal slice of a quill under the optical microscope. As expected, a soft core (cellular-foam like) and a denser ‘skin’.

Optical micrsocope images: transversal section and several magnifications

Optical microscope images: transverse section and longitudinal at several magnifications

As it commonly happens, the interesting story starts when you get to see beyond what the human eye can. At higher magnifications, the ‘skin’ shows a complex structure, with layers of material oriented so they form another ‘skin’ structure within the ‘skin’ itself, with a core oriented vertically (in these photos) and the skin running horizontally. (The big black vertical scars could be scratches at the time of polishing, though)

Transverse sections at different magnifications

Transverse sections at different magnifications

This multiscale ‘skin’ is a good solution for providing stiff properties but not at the expense of heavy, dense materials.

Special thanks to Andy Sandaver, who recently retired from the Wolfson School and we already miss his exceptional technical skills. And my gratitude to Edinburgh Zoo, where the samples were collected.

‘Naturally inspired manufacturing – a blueprint for research’, by Prof Marc Desmulliez

In Seminars and Keynotes on 2013/05/17 at 6:26 pm

We are honoured at the Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering to welcome Prof Marc Desmulliez to the School Seminars to talk to us about nature-inspired manufacturing.

The general public is fascinated by technologies and products inspired from biology because of the deep links that people have with nature. His talk will present a blueprint for research in manufacturing in this area. Examples from his own research work will be provided that describe the methodology proposed: this includes the use of chlorophyll as an electron donor material for electronics manufacture, the use of Coulombic forces for creating contoured structures and hollow microstructures, the use of TRIZ to set up a method of capturing the essence of natural manufacturing processes.

The seminar will be held on Wednesday, 22nd May at 2.00pm, in T.1.42/43 (Wolfson Building). Everyone is welcome.

Professor Marc Desmulliez is a professor of microelectronics at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. He is the Head of the Research Institute in Signals, Sensors and Systems (ISSS), and the Director of the MIcroSystems Engineering Centre (MISEC). He is an electrical engineer/physicist with more than 20 years of experience in optoelectronics, microsystems engineering and advanced manufacturing technologies. He has worked extensively in the design, manufacture and test of miniaturized sensors and microfluidic systems. He founded the MicroSystems Engineering Centre (MISEC), which is the 4th largest UK academic MEMS research group and specialises in non-silicon microsystems and rapid prototyping of MEMS.

A sunflower-inspired solar tracker to improve harvesting of energy

In Info on 2011/09/13 at 11:18 am

[Nicolas Salort has finished his MSc project in Renewable Energies at Heriot-Watt University. This is a snapshot of his work]

Some plants, for example the sunflower, have an extraordinary ability: they can follow the sun during daylight hours to enhance their photosynthesis ratio.

This was the idea that inspired us. We wanted to investigate if sunflower-inspired solar trackers would enhance the energy collected by a solar panel during the day.

During the survey stage we learnt three things:

–       Heliotropism: plants can control the angle of their leaves relative to the sun, control light absorption, and rate of photosynthesis. [This is different from phototropism, which is their ability to orientate themselves towards the light during growth].

–       Heliotropism is not exclusive of sunflowers. Alfalfa, cotton, soybean, bean and lupine also show that feature. The movements of the plant are caused by an organ, the pulvinus, situated at the base of the leaf. It contains motor cells that can change their inner volume by the action of turgot and thus allow the leaf to move.

–       It is not the sunflower head that moves following the sun, but the leaves!. And the perception of the light is a vector. This means that the leaves are able to sense if the light beams are normal to the lamina of the leaf or oblique to it. They show a 3-axis rotation that allows them to reposition so they remain perpendicular to sunrays at all times.

The design and construction of a prototype gave us great insight in order to assess what a sunflower could bring to the design of a solar tracker.

The 3-axis rotation and the perception of light as a vector were features incorporated into the design of our mechanical device.

The program adjusts the panel so that each photodiode receives the same amount of light.

To enable solar tracking ability, Nicolas used a quadrant photodiode with a two-fold purpose: 1) Obtain information about orientation of the light beam (whether this was parallel or not to the optical axis); and 2) to inform the system which direction the device should move to reinstall a parallel position.

You can watch the video here:  Sunflower-inspired solar tracker. The prototype follows a beam of light moving in an arc above it.

The system has proven effective at tracking light and reposition itself in order to stay always aligned with the light vector. This is certainly a great success in the biomimetics front!

International Journal of Design Engineering – Special issue on ‘Design in Nature’

In Publications on 2011/07/25 at 10:25 am

The International Journal of Design Engineering (IJDE) has just published its Special Issue on Design in Nature.

I am very honoured to have my work included there. For this special occasion, i wanted to show-case the developments on a novel manufacturing method for cellular materials with a graded porosity distribution.

The motivation for creating a gradient of porosity in materials has been inspired by nature and aspires to mimic natural structures so their intrinsic advantages (e.g., optimised mechanical properties) can be exploited. Many engineering applications (e.g., thermal, acoustics, mechanical, structural and tissue engineering) require porosity tailored structures. However, current manufacturing processes are currently unable to mass-produce these foams. In this work, low power-low frequency ultrasonic irradiation has been used to excite polymeric foaming melts that, once solidified, contained different porosity distributions throughout in their solid matrix. This was possible by controlling the amount of energy imposed on the samples. The generation of porosity gradients that resembles those of natural cellular structures (e.g., bones, stems) opens up new opportunities in the design and manufacture of bio-inspired materials that can solve challenging technological problems.

Torres-Sanchez, C. et al. (2011) ‘A novel manufacturing strategy for bio-inspired cellular structures’, Int. J. Design Engineering, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp.5–22. DOI:  10.1504/IJDE.2011.041406. A copy can be found here and here.

Making shapes and tailoring properties with ultrasound: the biomimicry approach

In Info, Seminars and Keynotes on 2011/05/11 at 8:40 am

If we want to mimic nature in order to improve ourselves and our built environment, then perhaps we should think about what’s important in
the biological world.  Shape, form and functionality are features that nature optimises, rather than maximises.  Form generally takes the path of least energy and material, and functionality is not understood without a multifaceted aim.

New trends in the design and manufacture of orthopaedic implants and scaffolds are moving towards the fabrication of functionally designed
specimens.  These not only offer a network for the cells to grow and proliferate, but also an environment in which this process can be accelerated (e.g. tailored chemistry for the cavities’ walls, and porosity gradation to lessen clogging and isolation of the cells that are situated at the very centre of the scaffold).  This new strategy for the generation of geometries and chemical environments is aligned with the biomimetic approach of manufacturing.  The final specimen is made to both look like and behave like natural muscle, cartilage, and bone tissues.

Ultrasound is used to control, manipulate and destroy bubbles.  In our work, ultrasound is used to ‘create’ bubbles.  In a polymeric melt
undergoing foaming, ultrasound can be directed to the matrix that surrounds the bubbles and enhance mass transport, diffusion and heat
flow.   In this way, shapes and forms, and functionality can be tailored.  It is the interrelationship of the cavity shape and the polymeric melt properties what the ultrasound can engineer.

Using this sonication technique, porosity graded materials are manufactured to match the requirements of biological substrates for
bioengineering applications.   We have successfully manufactured sonicated scaffolds that show a higher viability for hosting cells and
enhance their proliferation.  This opens a route for the individualisation (‘mass customisation’) of more efficient structures that potentially can be used as orthopaedic implants, and help alleviate the growing needs of an ageing society.

When: Wednesday 11th May at 1.15pm

Where:  JM F.48 (School of Life Sciences, Heriot-Watt University), Riccarton Campus)