From folding paper to folding leaves to folding condoms

Origami, or otherwise known, as the art of paper folding has been developed over 1000 years ago in Japan. It is a sophisticated way to create any shape known to the human eye from one sheet of paper by folding it over and over and never making even one cut. As fascinating this art form is, it hasn’t been thought to be too useful as an everyday application, besides it being a great hobby. Recently, scientist have discovered nature’s take on origami. Ever observed spring, the unraveling of entire leaves from tiny buds? It is incredible how a tiny leave can just fit, completely folded up into such a small space. Having done some research, they came up with a folding pattern, that is both inspired by nature and Japanise origami culture, the “Miura-Ori” pattern. A pattern, that allows a paper to be folded up and unfolded seemingly doing it by itself, with very little input. Such as little tourist maps you can get all over the world now. The branch of scientist that became especially excited about folding patterns are the mathematicians, coming up with ever new folding patterns, that would allow to fold objects, conserve space and also conserve material, as a good folding pattern allows for stronger material properties. 

So where would this knowledge be most obviously be of an advantage to use??? …. You guessed it !!! CONDOMS

I am not kidding!! A company in California has developed new condoms that they appropriately named “Origami Condoms” (www.origamicondoms.com) and that promise to be a significant improvement from our dutiful latex condoms we use since the 1930’s. The innovation lies in the fold, it allows for less material be used, and hence gives it a more “natural” feel. Also it only takes 3 seconds to unfold this “accordian-like” design. 

Bio inspiration is fascinating. Doesn’t this stimulate your creativity?

Recently I have attended a symposium on sea turtle biology and learned of a curious new way to treat wounds. Sea turtles naturally migrate across the ocean, covering large distances without encountering any humans. However, during mating season, February to November (depending on area), they mate in the shallow waters of some of the most busy beaches of the world. Many of them encounter boat and propeller strikes during that time with detrimental wounds to their limbs and carapace. However, how do you treat a wound on a marine dwelling reptile, that also likes to bite really hard??

Traditionally, gauzes and bandages like on humans were used, however, as a sea turtle hast to stay submerged in the water, they got wet, and the wound more infected. This was not a solution for the sea turtles.

A solution was found by Dr. Terry Norton, at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, GA. If you haven’t had the pleasure to visit the island or the Center, do consider it for your next vacation, it is a beautiful place and you can get close and personal with beautiful sea turtles on the beach as well as in the center. However, I digress, so the solution Dr. Norton has developed is to use honey. Honey has natural  properties for killing bacteria and fungi that allow for wound healing, and can be manufactured in was form, which allows it to be water tight and molded to the wound on the carapace. Studies have also shown that honey is hyperosmotic, which helps to pull debris out of wounds as well as the bees inject honey with an enzyme which converts glucose to hydrogen peroxide. Other positive effects from the medicinal use of honey, according to Norton, is that honey can enhance the immune system, has anti-inflamatory properties, has antioxidant capacities, and stimulates cell growth.

A company in New Zealand prepares a product called MediHoney, which is a packaged sterile honey well known for treating burns and diabetic wounds. This combined with local, non sterilized honey, to keep the active enzymes, are being used in the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to treat a variety of wounds, contributing to their remarkable return rate of healthy turtles to the sea.

Thank you little bees !!

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Bioinspiration for wound healing: Honey

The ever amazing fire ant

Fire ants are an invasive species from South America. They first were introduced to North America at the turn of the 19th century and have spread successfully through most of the southern states to the east coast. Along their path they managed to destroy crops, mess with traffic lights and cause billions in economic loss. Nevertheless, as a species they are highly adaptable and have some serious survival skills. Some research is eluding towards their social structure being a factor in their ability to invade new environments. They have casts of workers of different size that display different tasks, such as the larger workers are mostly at the surface and defend the nest, whereas medium workers tend to do the tunneling and others again are in charge of caring for the queen and the brood. They use chemicals to guide their clan to food, water and out of danger, making them a perfect little society, where few get lost. 

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So here are my thoughts to these amazing little creatures. Can we create a small robotic army of fire ants to aid us in discovering hard to get to places. Fire ants can run on the surface, if equipped with wings they can fly short distances and they most certainly can dig, and that at a fast rate. Given an example of a collapsed building wouldn’t a swarm of robotic ants, equipped with small cameras not provide us with a fast way to access the situation, get a 3D image of the building, get a GPS read on survivors and a way of retrieving most of the robots through their homing abilities. 

Nature is still amazing to me 😉 

What I learned from Palm trees

ImageWell I spent some time in Florida and took my camera out for a walk. Needless to say once I started looking through my lens, I saw the world from a different angle 😉 I noticed shapes and forms that I previously just walked right past. As an example: the first picture is of a palm tree and I noticed how the leaves are overlaid and look like one covers the next which covers the next and so on. This creates a sturdy array of leaves where pulling one out is sheer impossible unless your the Hulk.

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A similar example is the root of this palm tree. The same overlaying pattern is found, with one palm tree being 50% offset from the other, creating a raster that allows incredibly rigidity for the base of the plant. It prevents animals from just pulling the plant out and provides ample space for smaller bugs and plants to live within.

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The third example of this pattern I found on a very tall growing palm. It seems that the pattern holds true for a variety of shapes and sizes and provides a sturdy base that allows these plants to grow successfully. How could such a pattern be integrated into biomechanics. Could we create new durable materials? Would this aid in construction? Palm trees are known to be bendable during intense tropical storms and hurricanes without breaking. Could this be inspiration for new building materials and construction, ship masts or flag poles?

It seems to me that these plants have perfected a technique that we are familiar with, but I wonder what more there is that we can learn from it. Could we build a regenerative raster that can be implanted into our bodies to aid broken bones? The possibilities are endless and all we need to do sometimes is pick up our camera and snap some pictures to see the world from a different angle.

Earth’s magnetic fields: Navigating like sea turtles

For the past few years I have been following the research of Dr. Ken Lohman and his group of scientists at the University of North Carolina. Their big question is to understand the migration patterns of sea turtles in the ocean. My first thought was, well what does it matter where in the ocean the sea turtles are, since it is all water. Clearly, I was narrow minded and hadn’t thought of the ocean as a complex environment such as the more familiar terrestrial one is for me. Clearly the turtles have to make sure they follow food sources, avoid cold waters and don’t get stuck in remote corners, such as the Mediterranean sea.

Research has shown that sea turtles migrate in the Sargassum current, which stretches from the east coast of the United States, follows across the Atlantic to Europe and down to northern West Africa and back to the Caribbean just to turn up towards the eastern US seaboard. This circular path is home to the hatchlings of the Loggerhead sea turtle species. It is also a very large area of the North Atlantic and Dr. Lohman with his colleagues were wondering how do the hatchlings know to swim in the right direction? How do they not end up in Halifax, Canada freezing to death? 

The answer they found is linked to the earth’s magnetic fields that surround the planet and can be perceived by the hatchlings. Once out to the sea the hatchling swims along, aware of the magnetic fields and turns at appropriate locations to steer away from the cold waters of the north, from being stuck in the Mediterranean sea or swimming to far south and paying a visit to Sao Paulo. It safely navigates them back to the Caribbean where they find plenty of warm waters, food and shelter. Amazingly though, as the hatchlings grown up to become adults, the same magnetic fields navigate them to find their hatching beach with an accuracy of several km, or sometimes only meters. 

What are the questions still unanswered? 1) With what sensory organ or how do the hatchling sea turtles perceive the magnetic field? 2) Can/Do other animals utilize this technique? 3) Can we figure out how it is done and revolutionize the compass? I am not trying to suggest that technology has stood still since the invention of the compass, however, my point is, can we learn something from sea turtles and salmon. Can we engineer a precision navigation system that takes into account earth’s magnetic fields? 

 

 

Welcome to my Bioinspiration blog

What is Bioinspiration and why should we think about it?

It is a new word and a new field. If you go on google and do a quick search on your generic sites, like dictionary.com or onelook.com, you won’t find a description of the term. This in itself is good and bad. First the bad: Not having a definition of the word makes it harder to find relevant information, it also might intimidate you to share it with other, since you are just not quite sure if you have it right. The good, in my opinion outweigh the bad: If there is no formal definition of the term, you can let your creativity flow.

To me Bioinspiration means using the building blocks and designs we observe in nature and adapt them to our knowledge of technology. I realize this sounds a bit like I am separating us “humans” from them “nature”, and although Darwin has rocked our thinking with his knowledge of natural selection for close to 160 years now, it is still sometimes hard to categorize ourselves as animals. So reunite with your inner animal, spend some time away from your home, your cell phone, your TV, and go outside. Let me ask you a few questions: “When is the last time you have felt the grass under your bare toes?”, “When is the last time you bent down to smell a flower, or touched a leave?”, “When is the last time you sat down on a park bench, switched off all communication devices and really looked around yourself?”. I myself am a victim of my times and have to periodically stop myself, and remember when I just loved to feel nature around me.

Hidden within the process of stopping yourself and realizing that nature is around you, you will start to walk the first steps towards understanding and appreciating bioinspiration.

Isn’t Nature fantastic?