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Biomimicry or biomimetics is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. [1] The terms biomimicry andbiomimetics come from the Greek words bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate. A closely related field is bionics.[2]

Over the last 3.6 billion years,[3] nature has gone through a process of trial and error to refine the living organisms, processes, and materials on Earth. The emerging field of biomimetics has given rise to new technologies created from biologically inspired engineering at both the macro scale and nanoscale levels. Biomimetics is not a new idea. Humans have been looking at nature for answers to both complex and simple problems throughout our existence. Nature has solved many of today’s engineering problems such as hydrophobicity, wind resistance, self-assembly, and harnessing solar energy through the evolutionary mechanics of selective advantages.


One of the early examples of biomimicry was the study of birds to enable human flight. Although never successful in creating a “flying machine”, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was a keen observer of the anatomy and flight of birds, and made numerous notes and sketches on his observations as well as sketches of “flying machines”.[4] The Wright Brothers, who succeeded in flying the first heavier-than-air aircraft in 1903, derived inspiration from observations of pigeons in flight.[5]

Otto Schmitt, an American academic and inventor, coined the term biomimetics to describe the transfer of ideas from biology to technology.[6] He developed the Schmitt triggerwhile attempting to replicate the biological system of nerve propagation.[7] The term biomimetics entered Webster’s Dictionary in 1974 and is defined as “the study of the formation, structure, or function of biologically produced substances and materials (as enzymes or silk) and biological mechanisms and processes (as protein synthesis or photosynthesis) especially for the purpose of synthesizing similar products by artificial mechanisms which mimic natural ones”.

In 1960, the term bionics was coined by psychiatrist and engineer Jack Steele to mean “the science of systems which have some function copied from nature”.[2] Bionics entered the Webster dictionary in 1960 as “a science concerned with the application of data about the functioning of biological systems to the solution of engineering problems”. Bionic took on a different connotation when Martin Caidin referenced Jack Steele and his work in the novel Cyborg which later resulted in the 1974 television series The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin-offs. The term bionic then became associated with “the use of electronically operated artificial body parts” and “having ordinary human powers increased by or as if by the aid of such devices”.[8] Because the term bionic took on the implication of supernatural strength, the scientific community in English speaking countries largely abandoned it.[9]

The term biomimicry appeared as early as 1982.[10] Biomimicry was popularized by scientist and author Janine Benyus in her 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Biomimicry is defined in the book as a “new science that studies nature’s models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems”. Benyus suggests looking to Nature as a “Model, Measure, and Mentor” and emphasizes sustainability as an objective of biomimicry.[11]


Biological imitation of nano and macro scale structures and processes is called nanobiomimicry. Nature provides a great variety of nano-sized materials that offer as potential templates for the creation of new materials, such as bacteria, viruses, diatoms, and biomolecules. Through the study of nanobiomimicry, key components of nanodevices likenanowiresquantum dots, and nanotubes have been produced in an efficient and simple manner when compared to more conventional lithographic techniques. Many of these biologically derived structures are then developed into applications for photovoltaics, sensors, filtration, insulation, and medical uses. The field of nanobiomimetics is highly multidisciplinary, and requires collaboration between biologists, engineers, physicists, material scientists, nanotechnologists and other related fields. In the past century, the growing field of nanotechnology has produced several novel materials and enabled scientists to produce nanoscale biological replicas.


Electron micrograph of rod shaped TMV particles.

SEM of rod shaped tobacco mosaic virusparticles

Biomorphic mineralization is a technique that produces materials with morphologies and structures resembling those of natural living organisms by using bio-structures as templates for mineralization. Compared to other methods of material production, biomorphic mineralization is facile, environmentally benign and economic.[12] Biomorphic mineralization makes efficient use of natural and abundant materials such as calcium, iron, carbon, phosphorus, and silicon with the capability of turning biomass wastes into useful materials. Templates derived from biological nanoparticles such as DNA, viruses, bacteria, and peptides can transform unordered inorganic nanoparticles into complex inorganic nanostructures. Biologically derived nanostructures are typically fabricated using either chemical or physical techniques. Typical chemical fabrication techniques are plasma spraying, plasma immersion ion implantation and deposition,sol–gelchemical vapor deposition, physical vapor deposition, cold spraying and self-assembly. Physical modification techniques include laser etching, shot blasting, physical plating, and physical evaporation and deposition. Methods of fabrication with high throughput, minimal environmental damage, and low costs are highly sought after.

Biologically inspired engineering[edit]

The use of biomineralized structures is vast and derived from the abundance of nature. From studying the nano-scale morphology of living organisms many applications have been developed through multidisciplinary collaboration between biologists, chemists, bioengineers, nanotechnologists, and material scientists.

Nanowires, nanotubes, and quantum dots[edit]

virus is a nonliving particle ranging from the size of 20 to 300 nm capsules containing genetic material used to infect its host. The outer layer of viruses are remarkably robust and capable of withstanding temperatures as high as 60 °C and stay stable in a wide range of pH range of 2-10.[12] Viral capsids can be used to create several nano device components such as nanowires, nanotubes, and quantum dots. Tubular virus particles such as thetobacco mosaic virus (TMV) can be used as templates to create nanofibers and nanotubes since both the inner and outer layers of the virus are charged surfaces and can induce nucleation of crystal growth. This was demonstrated though the production of platinum and gold nanotubes using TMV as a template.[13] Mineralized virus particles have been shown to withstand various pH values by mineralizing the viruses with different materials such silicon, PbS, and CdS and could therefore serve as a useful carriers of material.[14]A spherical plant virus called cowpea chlorotic mottle virus (CCMV) has interesting expanding properties when exposed to environments of pH higher than 6.5. Above this pH, 60 independent pores with diameters about 2 nm begin to exchange substance with the environment. The structural transition of the viral capsid can be utilized in Biomorphic mineralization for selective uptake and deposition of minerals by controlling the solution pH. Applications include using the viral cage to produce uniformly shaped and sized quantum dot semiconductor nanoparticles through a series of pH washes. This is an alternative to the apoferritin cage technique currently used to synthesize uniform CdSe nanoparticles.[15] Such materials could also be used for targeted drug delivery since particles release contents upon exposure to specific pH levels.

Display technology[edit]

Further information: Structural coloration and Patterns in nature
Morpho butterfly.

Vibrant blue color of Morpho butterfly due to structural coloration.

Morpho butterfly wings contain microstructures that create its coloring effect through structural coloration rather than pigmentation. Incident light waves are reflected at specific wavelengths to create vibrant colors due to multilayer interference, diffraction, thin film interference, and scattering properties.[16] The scales of these butterflies consist of microstructures such as ridges, cross-ribs, ridge-lamellae, and microribs that have been shown to be responsible for coloration. The structural color has been simply explained as the interference due to alternating layers of cuticle and air using a model of multilayer interference. The same principles behind the coloration of soap bubbles apply to butterfly wings. The color of butterfly wings is due to multiple instances of constructive interferencefrom structures such as this. The photonic microstructure of butterfly wings can be replicated through biomorphic mineralization to yield similar properties. The photonic microstructures can be replicated using metal oxides or metal alkoxides such as titanium sulfate(TiSO4), zirconium oxide (ZrO2), and aluminium oxide (Al2O3). An alternative method of vapor-phase oxidation of SiH4 on the template surface was found to preserve delicate structural features of the microstructure.[17] Now, companies like Qualcomm are specializing in creating color displays with low power consumption based on these principles.

Additional examples[edit]

Velcro was inspired by the tiny hooks found on the surface of burs.

Researchers studied the termite’s ability to maintain virtually constant temperature and humidity in their termite mounds in Africa despite outside temperatures that vary from 1.5 °C to 40 °C (35 °F to 104 °F). Researchers initially scanned a termite mound and created 3-D images of the mound structure, which revealed construction that can influence human building design. The Eastgate Centre, a mid-rise office complex in HarareZimbabwe,[18] stays cool without air conditioning and uses only 10% of the energy of a conventional building its size.

Modeling echolocation in bats in darkness has led to a cane for the visually impaired. Research at the University of Leeds, in the United Kingdom, led to the UltraCane, a product formerly manufactured, marketed and sold by Sound Foresight Ltd.

Janine Benyus refers in her books to spiders that create web silk as strong as the Kevlar used in bulletproof vests. Engineers could use such a material—if it had a long enough rate of decay—for parachute lines, suspension bridge cables, artificial ligaments for medicine, and other purposes.[11]

Other research has proposed adhesive glue from mussels, solar cells made like leaves, fabric that emulates shark skin, harvesting water from fog like a beetle, and more. Nature’s 100 Best is a compilation of the top hundred different innovations of animals, plants, and other organisms that have been researched and studied by the Biomimicry Institute.[18]

A display technology based on the reflective properties of certain morpho butterflies was commercialized by Qualcomm in 2007. The technology uses Interferometric Modulation to reflect light so only the desired color is visible in each individual pixel of the display.

Biomimicry may also provide design methodologies and techniques to optimize engineering products and systems. An example is the re-derivation of Murray’s law, which in conventional form determined the optimum diameter of blood vessels, to provide simple equations for the pipe or tube diameter which gives a minimum mass engineering system.[19]

In structural engineering, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) has incorporated biomimetic characteristics in an adaptive deployable “tensegrity” bridge. The bridge can carry out self-diagnosis and self-repair.[20]

The extremely tough and mechanically versatile insect cuticle, inspired the scientists from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, who developed the Shrilk family of biomimetic plastics, based in the components and design of the insect skin.

The Bombardier beetle‘s powerful repellent spray inspired a Swedish company to develop a “micro mist” spray technology, which is claimed to have a low carbon impact (compared to aerosol sprays). The beetle mixes chemicals and releases its spray via a steerable nozzle at the end of its abdomen, stinging and confusing the victim. [21]

Flock of sheep.

Holistic planned grazing, using fencing and/or herders, seeks to restore grasslands by carefully planning movements of large herds of livestock to mimic the vast herds found in nature where grazing animals are kept concentrated by pack predators and must move on after eating, trampling, and manuring an area, returning only after it has fully recovered. Developed by Allan Savory,[22] this method of biomimetic grazing holds tremendous potential in building soil, increasing biodiversity, reversing desertification, and mitigating global warming,[23][24] similar to what occurred during the past 40 million years as the expansion of grass-grazer ecosystems built deepgrassland soils, sequestering carbon and cooling the planet.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reading University: What is Biomimetics? Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  2. a b Mary McCarty. “Life of bionics founder a fine adventure”.Dayton Daily News, 29 January 2009.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Romei, Francesca (2008). Leonardo Da Vinci. The Oliver Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-934545-00-3.
  5. ^ Howard, Fred (1998). Wilbur and Orville: A Biography of the Wright Brothers. Dober Publications. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-486-40297-0.
  6. ^ Vincent, Julian F. V.; Bogatyreva, Olga A., Bogatyrev, Nikolaj R., Bowyer, Adrian, Pahl, Anja-Karina (21 August 2006). “Biomimetics: its practice and theory”. Journal of The Royal Society Interface 3 (9): 471–482. doi:10.1098/rsif.2006.0127.
  7. ^ “Otto H. Schmitt, Como People of the Past”. Connie Sullivan, Como History Article.
  8. ^ Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-953296-4.
  9. ^ Vincent, JFV (2009). “Biomimetics — a review”. Proc. I. Mech. E. 223: p919–939.
  10. ^ Merrill, Connie Lange (1982). Biomimicry of the Dioxygen Active Site in the Copper Proteins Hemocyanin and Cytochrome Oxidase. Rice University.
  11. a b Benyus, Janine (1997). Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. New York, USA: William Morrow & CompanyISBN 978-0-688-16099-9.
  12. a b Tong-Xiang, Suk-Kwun, Di Zhang. “Biomorphic Mineralization: From biology to materials .” State Key Lab of Metal Matrix Composites . Shanghai: Shanghai Jiaotong University , n.d. 545-1000.
  13. ^ Dujardin E., Peet C. “Nano Lett.” 2003. 3:413.
  14. ^ Shenton W. Douglas, Young M. “Adv. Materials.” 1999. 11:253.
  15. ^ Ischiro Yamashita, Junko Hayashi, Mashahiko Hara. “Bio-template Synthesis of Uniform CdSe Nanoparticles Using Cage-shaped Protein, Apoferritin.” Chemistry Letters (2004). Volume: 33, Issue: 9. 1158–1159.
  16. ^ Ball, Philip (May 2012). “Scientific American”Nature’s Color Tricks 306. pp. 74–79. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0512-74. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  17. ^ Cook G., Timms PL, Goltner-Spickermann C. Angew. “Chem Int Ed.” 2003. 42:557.
  18. a b Biomimicry Institute: case study
  19. ^ Williams, Hugo R.; Trask, Richard S., Weaver, Paul M. and Bond, Ian P. (2008). “Minimum mass vascular networks in multifunctional materials”Journal of the Royal Society Interface 5 (18): 55–65. doi:10.1098/rsif.2007.1022.PMC 2605499PMID 17426011.
  20. ^ Korkmaz, Sinan; Bel Hadj Ali, Nizar, Smith, Ian F.C. (2011).“Determining Control Strategies for Damage Tolerance of an Active Tensegrity Structure”Engineering Structures 33 (6): 1930–1939. doi:10.1016/j.engstruct.2011.02.031.
  21. ^ Swedish Biomimetics: The μMist Platform Technology. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  22. ^ Savory, Allan; Jody Butterfield (1998-12-01) [1988]. Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making (2nd ed. ed.). Washington, D.C.: Island Press. ISBN 1-55963-487-1.
  23. ^ “Allan Savory: How to green the desert and reverse climate change.” TED Talk, February 2013.
  24. ^ Thackara, John (June 2010). “Greener Pastures”Seed Magazine.
  25. ^ Retallack, Gregory (2001). “Cenozoic Expansion of Grasslands and Climatic Cooling”The Journal of Geology(University of Chicago Press) 109: 407–426.

Further reading[edit]

  • Thompson, D’Arcy W.On Growth and Form. Dover 1992 reprint of 1942 2nd ed. (1st ed., 1917).
  • Vogel, S.Cats’ Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People. Norton & co. 2000.
  • Benyus, J. M. (2001). Along Came a Spider. Sierra, 86(4), 46-47.
  • Hargroves, K. D. & Smith, M. H. (2006). Innovation inspired by nature Biomimicry. Ecos, (129), 27-28.
  • Marshall, A. (2009). Wild Design: The Ecomimicry Project”, North Atlantic Books: Berkeley.
  • Pyper, W. (2006). Emulating nature: The rise of industrial ecology. Ecos, (129), 22-26.
  • Smith, J. (2007). It’s only natural. The Ecologist, 37(8), 52-55.
  • Passino, Kevin M. (2004). Biomimicry for Optimization, Control, and Automation. Springer.

External links[edit]



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