Human life and nature are completely inseparable, and scientists, engineers, and mathematicians have found inspiration in nature as well as things to be studied.
Not only have people looked to nature to inspire new kinds of building and technology, we’ve also been able to use math to observe the same types of patterns everywhere in nature and use math to explain why. Scroll down to learn more!
WHAT IS BIOMIMICRY?
People have often looked to nature for inspiration when inventing new technology in a process called biomimicry.
Biomimicry is a way of creating new things where designers and engineers look to nature to see if evolution has created a way for plants and animals to solve a problem humans are trying to figure out.
Watch this video to learn more.
LET’S EXPLORE DIFFERENT EXAMPLES OF BIOMIMICRY
High speed train
Studying birds helped the Wright Brothers figure out some of the early problems with flight but more recently birds have been an inspiration for new high speed trains.
These trains usually travel faster than 200 mph so they need to be very good at moving through the air with as little resistance as possible.
Birds like the kingfisher need to be able to move incredibly quickly and quietly to catch their prey. Over time they’ve evolved in such a way where the shape of their head and body allow them to basically cut through the air.
Engineers have been able to look at their shape and recreate it in the nose of high-speed trains to allow them to move quickly and quietly like the kingfisher.
Nature is built on being able to take CO2 out of the air and turn it into things ecosystems need, like nutrients for trees, coral, and shells. Many other things are created by organisms taking the CO2 around them and using it to make something they need.
Humans are starting to invent their own version of this by pulling CO2 out of the air and “sequestering” it into things like concrete to be used in construction.
Technology companies like Apple are trying to recreate an ecosystem effect by designing a bunch of products that all do different things but work together really well to make each other stronger.
Instead of a cycle of plants, animals, soil, water, and air all making each other stronger, Apple has an ecosystem of phones, tablets, earbuds, and even credit cards that are able to talk to each other.
An ecosystem is a community of living and nonliving things working together as a system to make each other stronger.
MATH IN NATURE
This is almost the opposite process of biomimicry. Instead of looking to nature for inspiration to create something new, we’ve been able to use tools humans to examine and explain the same patterns we see over and over again in nature.
The Fibonacci Sequence is probably the most famous example of math in nature, and you can find in everything from plants, to hurricanes to galaxies.
The pattern behind it is pretty simple: it’s just a sequence of numbers that starts at 1 and the next number is always the sum of the two before it, so it goes 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on. This sequence creates a spiral!
The reason why this sequence comes up is surprisingly simple: a lot of things in nature try to use space as efficiently as possible, so as new things like leaves in a plant grow they’re pushed away from the leaves that already exist.
Hexagons work a lot like the fibonacci sequence, they show up over and over again because their shape makes them very good at something.
Things built out of hexagons are able to connect to each other with the least amount of wasted space of any shape, they are also naturally strong.
Things connected hexagonally naturally support each other when they’re pulled or pushed.
Things put together using hexagons like honeycomb or snake scales are naturally strong and can hold the most amount of stuff using the least amount of space.
LET’S TRY TO FIND THESE PATTERNS OURSELVES!
Try to go out in nature and find these patterns for yourself. The number of petals on a flower may be in the fibonacci sequence, a pinecone may make the same spiral, or maybe you’ll find it in a new place!
Meet Graham Scholar Jacob Quinn!
I am a senior at the University of Michigan pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering with a focus in power systems and wireless communication systems. I am originally from Pentwater, Michigan and will be moving to Jackson, Michigan post graduation to work in substation engineering for a local engineering firm. I’m passionate about the intersection of social justice and renewable energy, as well as the reduction of household waste. I enjoy spending my free time watching stand-up comedy and reading.
The Graham Scholars Program supports 50 undergraduate juniors and seniors at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus annually. The co-curricular program complements many academic programs. Scholars work with organizations through summer internships and sustainability projects that provide an opportunity to refine project management, collaboration, and other skills applicable to all career paths. The Scholars Program is open to all schools and colleges and is supported by the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute, see graham.umich.edu/scholars.