Biomimicry: Learning from Nature – Lessons from plants

Posted by on August 19, 2013

Biomimicry is the practice of learning from and emulating nature’s genius.  And when it comes to genius, the plant kingdom has more than its fair share of examples.  From their amazing processes, to their remarkable resourcefulness, complex relationships, and incredible ingenuity of form, both molecular and macroscopic, there is so much we can learn from plants… in addition to the simple joy their beauty brings us!! Chemical-free Cleaning Take the lotus plant, for instance.  Lotus plants (Nelumbo nucifera) have the remarkable ability to stay dirt-free…no mean feat for an aquatic plant living in typically muddy habitats.  And they do so without using detergent or expending energy! So, how do they do this? Well, it boils down to their very special leaf surface – a surface that allows water to flow right off of it without sticking, and that takes any dirt on the leaf off with it!  And it’s all thanks to the complex nanoscale architecture of the leaf as seen in the picture below.

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This surface is known as “superhydrophobic” …a bit of a mouthful, but essentially meaning “extremely water repellant”! Inspired by the lotus leaf, a revolution in self-cleaning surfaces is underway. Many researchers and engineers are developing synthetic superhydrophobic materials and products that mimic the lotus leaf’s extremely water-repellent and self-cleaning properties. These materials and textiles would enable skyscraper windows and walls to never need human cleaning, not to mention an unlimited number of other objects: tents and awnings,  vehicle undercarriages, etc.

Scientists are also investigating how to apply this self-cleaning capability to photovoltaic arrays to improve on their operating performance.   Some technologists are developing self-deodorizing and disinfectant surfaces for bathrooms and hospitals, as well as similar technologies for keeping surfaces from fogging.

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by Sue Swain from Bio Wise

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