Friday, November 23, 2012

Learning from Nature

by Tayla Tucker

I recently went to a film festival which was part of the ‘Sustain our Africa Summit’ and watched a film entitled: ‘Second Nature – The Biomimicry Evolution.’ This film explored the emerging discipline of biomimicry, which examines nature’s best ideas, models, systems and processes, and emulates them to solve human problems. The film was inspired by famous biologist Janine Benyus and followed her and the Biomimicry Institute team in the bush in South Africa as they demonstrated how organisms in the natural world can show us how to be more sustainable and efficient with the things we already have.
 Biomimicry, also known as Biometrics, comes from the Greek words ‘bios’ = life; ‘mimesis’= imitate, and is not a new idea. Man has been looking at nature for answers, both simple and complex, throughout existence. An early example of Biomimicry in Engineering is the study of birds for human flight and even today the most advanced aeroplane building companies are looking at wing structure of larger birds in order create safer commercial passenger carriers.

"The more our world functions like the natural world,the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours,but not ours alone." ~ Janine Benyus

Throughout the video Janine gives us examples of designs from nature and how they have been used to create superior man-made products, an example being the Lotus leaf. A Lotus leaf is self-cleaning, which means that after rainfall it is clear of water as well as dirt. Janine explains that the surface topography of the leaf interacts with water molecules in a way which allows water to roll off taking dirt with it. A company by the name of Sto Corp has created a sealer which mimics this topography, effectively creating a self cleaning paint. This simple sealer has the potential to change home life forever. No more having to physically wash the walls, the rain can do it, or a simple spray with a hose pipe. This should also eliminate the use of soaps; which will be good for the environment.

Images: (left) by Janet Botes, (right) sourced from EcoSalon

If we can learn techniques like this from something as simple as a leaf, imagine what else is waiting out there to be discovered! Nature has been evolving for 3.6 billion years, testing through trail and error, in order to create the most effective with the least resistance. There is so much we can learn, we just need to open our eyes to what is in front of us.

There is a local Biomimicry organisation which provides information and offers courses, where you can learn more about this amazing new branch of science! Go to for more information.

Here is a link to a bio of Janine Benyus as part of TEDx, which also includes links to talks that she has given:

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