Creative Engineering in Nature

Some of my recent blog posts have described a few of the life lessons I’ve learned during my experiences in the wild. Nature can not only teach us about important life issues, but it can also inspire us to create wonderful things and solve problems. For instance, by observing the intricacies of an orb-weaver spider web, I can learn how to trap my enemies in a sticky situation. Scientists have actually used the design of silk webs to create a strong, stretchy medical tape. By the way, did you know that many female spiders eat the male after mating? Some female Wolf Spiders with aggressive personalities will even attack males before mating! There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

Female wolf spider carrying young on back

Left – Orb-weaving Spider, Right – Female Wolf Spider with young. I wonder what she tells the kids when they ask about their father?

Many of our engineering designs for flight have been inspired by God’s creation. The Wright brothers adjusted their early plane designs to follow the way birds change the angle of their body during flight. They actually spent some time watching birds fly and studying the wings of seabirds. If you go back a few hundred years, Leonardo (Da Vinci, not DiCaprio or the blue-masked ninja turtle) sketched designs of flying machines based on birds and bats that he observed soaring and gliding through the air.  The helicopter may have received some inspiration from the wings of dragonflies and the first amphibious stealth bomber was created after a man marooned on an island in the Atlantic saw manta rays leaping out of the water to catch fish.

Really? You believed there was an amphibious stealth bomber?

Velcro is commonly used in shoes, backpacks, and fastening devices. The engineer who created velcro designed it based on the hooks found in burrs. In similar fashion, Geckskin™ is a recent invention from researchers at Massachussetts. This substance was created based on the design of gecko feet, which contain numerous tiny hairs that function as a powerful adhesive and enables a gecko to walk up walls and stick to glass. Apparently, a small sheet of Geckskin™ is capable of holding around 700 pounds!! By the way, if you see a news flash about someone stealing a supply of Geckskin™ and raiding a local costume store, it is not me attempting to become Spiderman. I also imagine that suction cups were modeled after the suckers on octopuses.

Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) toepad

Above – Tokay Gecko and close-up of gecko foot. Below – a small pad of Geckskin™ holding up 300 pounds of weight! (All pictures from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, College of Natural Sciences).

A 4x4 inch Geckskin pad holding 300 lbs on glass

Some cultures have used fireflies as lanterns to light paths through the woods at night. Scientists have been fascinated by the efficiency of the light that fireflies produce and have used that design in improving LED lights (Click here for an interesting article from Popular Science). That reminds me, there is a species of firefly in which the female mimics the light signals of other species to attract males who think they are getting a chance to mate. The males who show up are promptly devoured. Don’t ask me for any more life lessons in this area. One more cool fact about fireflies; there is actually a species in the Great Smoky Mountains which can create synchronized flashes. In other words, a bunch of fireflies will all light up at once, and then another group will light up in response. The resulting scene is pretty cool and I had the privilege of watching this event several summers ago.

Picture of synchronous fireflies from http://www.pigeonforge.com

I recently saw the 2nd Avengers movies and the new Jurassic World. Those movies, combined with what I’ve learned from nature, have inspired me to new creative heights. I’m thinking about making an unstoppable creature, say, a giant meat-eating dinosaur with artificial intelligence. That way a path can be cleared for me to become the benevolent dictator of the United States in 2020. I’m pretty sure it’s a foolproof plan and I will be the hero after stopping Indominitron with my firefly flash bombs, my bombardier beetle rocket arms (think megaman), and my geckskin suit. Nature is awesome!

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