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Biomimicry: Growing good ideas from the natural world

  • Nature inspiring designers to create materials and products that are smart and sustainable
  • Biomimicry attempts to "emulate nature's genius"
  • Plants inspiring new designs to grow trees in deserts and explore landscape of Mars

Watch Earth's Frontiers show on biomimicry at the following times: Thursday, June 24, 12.30, 16.30; Saturday, June 26, 7.30, 17.30, 20.00; Sunday, June 27 03.00, 07.30, 15.00. All times GMT

London (England) CNN -- If you're in need of inspiration for a design project you might traditionally peruse a textbook, or perhaps visit a local design exhibition.

But, as an increasing number of engineers and scientists are learning, many of these problems can be solved by Mother Nature.

Biomimicry, a word coined by the natural history author and co-founder of the Biomimicry Guild, Janine Benyus, looks at nature's best practices and then tries to emulate them to create better, more intelligent materials and products.

Over half a century ago, George de Mestral, took inspiration from the burrs which stubbornly stuck to his clothes while out walking his dog. He put a few of them under his microscope and found a network of tiny hooks. The discovery led directly to the Swiss engineer's invention of Velcro.

In recent years, "emulating nature's genius" -- as Benyus describes biomimicry -- has surged in popularity as designers look to create more elegant, more efficient products which can help mitigate some of the impacts of climate change.

"There are a group of people doing something very unusual, very new for us in Western industrial culture. What they are doing is shifting from learning about nature to learning from nature," Benyus told CNN.

This move away from what she calls the traditional "heat, beat and treat" mode of production towards more sustainable practice is exemplified in the study of plants to create better products.

Former Dutch flower exporter turned inventor, Pieter Hoff has created an award-winning plastic box -- called the "Groasis" -- which captures condensation and rainwater, stores it and then drip feeds it to saplings enabling them to grow in arid areas.

In contrast, scientists have developed a paint which repels water and dirt that mimics the surface of the lotus leaf, which, as German botanist, Dr Willhelm Barthlott discovered, is able to stay dry and clean through a network of microscopic bumps on its surface.

Mimicking plants may find a use on Mars if NASA's tests of their prototype "Tumbleweed Inflatable Rover" prove successful, and scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are trying to turn solar power from a "boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source."

Among a range of projects, MIT are hopeful solar panels will soon track the sun efficiently, mimicking nature's heliotrope plants.

Anyone curious to find out more can visit the Biomimicry Institute's open source Web site ( which will put you in touch with designers and nature-inspired design concepts being created all over the world.


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