The Sound of Science - 'Biomimicry'

Aug 30, 2019

Sam: Welcome to the Sound of Science on WNIJ. I’m Sam from NIU STEM Outreach. 

Christine: And I’m Christine from NIU Outdoor Adventures. Do you know what biomimicry is?

Sam: Biomimicry… Christine, I really hope you don’t plan on spending the next two minutes making animal sounds.

Christine: (pig snort laugh) No, biomimicry refers to velcro, sharkskin swimming suits, spider silk -- things like that. Inventors and scientists look at the ways plants and animals have adapted to their environments to live, thrive, and survive.

Sam: Okay, how about an example?

NIU STEM Outreach

Christine: Right meow a lot of surfaces are treated with a little bit of oil or some other lipid. But another way to make objects waterproof is derived from the lotus effect. Lotus leaves have ultrahydrophobicity, meaning water droplets will immediately bead up and roll off.

Sam: Neat! It must be really slippery!

Christine: It actually has millions of bumps; each one is covered in a thin wax film. Wax is already hydrophobic, but the bumps and divots create spots where the water is more likely to attach to itself than fall apart. We see this applied to clothes to make them stain resistant, or to antennas to prevent ice buildup.

Sam: Any other examples of biomimicry?

Christine: Yes, mooving right along... Have you ever looked down at your arm and seen a mosquito bite and think, “Hey, when did that get there? I didn’t even notice!”? Mosquitos have different parts to their blood sucking needle, and scientists have used that to create a better needle for medicine. Basically a super tiny serrated needle vibrates and shakes its way into your skin to deposit a numbing agent before taking blood or injecting medication. Supposedly, patients feel about only one third the pain!

Sam: It’s interesting that we’re the most intelligent species but we’re taking ideas from animals. 

Christine: Cluckily, evolution weeds out a lot of bad ideas, and these animals have been evolving and adapting for millions of years! We’re simply replicating and improving what we witness in nature.

Sam: This has been a real hoot! You can witness the wonders of nature by joining NIU Outdoor Adventures on their excursions! This has been The Sound of Science on WNIJ.

Christine: Where you learn something new every day.