Nature-the most inspiring model for our Ecosystems


Maneka Gandhi

(Bihar Times) The human has spent the last 2000 years trying to better nature. In the process we have reached a point where we are the victims of our own world view.
Since we too are a species on this earth and not invaders , we need to create products and processes that follow nature’s principles . In nature, if the animal or plant is faulty in design, it adapts and changes till it gets it right or it dies. We need to learn common sense strategies. Nature organizes extremely energy efficient designs and systems, optimizing energy use at every turn. Greater efficiency translates to energy cost savings and greater profitability. Nature builds to shape, because shape is cheap and material is expensive. This means , minimize the amount you spend on materials while maximizing the effectiveness of your product’s patterns and forms to achieve their desired functions. shifts materials and nutrients within a habitat optimally using all resources and eliminating waste. Leonardo Da Vinci , the master painter and inventor said “ Those who are inspired by a model other than Nature, a mistress above all masters, are laboring in vain”
Slowly inventors have recognized that everything done by plants and animals is superior to what we do : from the self healing methods of a shelled animal to the houses made by ants , the conversion of  solar energy by a leaf to the temperature management of beetles. Why not use nature's time-tested patterns and strategies to create products, processes, and policies---new ways of living---that are well-adapted to life on earth. Here are some recent examples:
The anthill built by termites is , if you calculate their size , more than 200 times larger than the Empire State Building. It needs no artificial cooling to maintain the same temperature all year round. The insects do this by opening and closing vents throughout the mound to manage convection currents of air - cooler air is drawn in from open lower sections while hot air escapes through chimneys. Finally human architects have started copying them. The high-rise Eastgate Centre building in Harare, Zimbabwe uses a similar design and air circulation planning and it needs only 10% of the energy used in similar sized conventional buildings!
Velcro fasteners were invented in 1941 by an engineer who took the idea from the burrs that stuck tenaciously to his dog's hair. He noted the tiny hooks on the end of the burr's spines that caught clothing, hair or animal fur with a loop. The Velcro fastener system uses strips or patches of a hooked material opposite strips or patches of a loose-looped weave of nylon that holds the hooks. Gecko Tape goes one better. It is a material covered with nanoscopic hairs that mimic those found on the feet of gecko lizards. These millions of tiny, flexible hairs have a powerful adhesive effect which can even be used to climb walls.
Inspired by the flippers humpback whales use to enable their agility in the water, WhalePower has developed turbine blades with bumps called tubercles on the leading edge. Compared to smooth surface fins, the bumpy humpback ones have 32% less drag and an 8% increased lift in their movement through air or water. Using such blades to catch the wind could provide a 20% increase in efficiency in applications from wind turbines to hydroelectric turbines, irrigation pumps to ventilation fans
Inspired by the ability of shark's skin to reduce drag, researchers are developing coatings for ship's hulls, submarines, aircraft fuselage, and even swimwear for humans. In fact imitation shark's skin swimsuits ( called Fastskin) made their appearance at the Bejing Olympics and may have helped US swimmer Michael Phelps to his record eight gold medals.
Bats use echolocation to get around in the dark. Ultracane , a unique cane for the blind detects   ultrasonic echoes so that users can get around without running into walls.
The mammoth telescope mirrors made at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab would be too heavy to function if they weren't built on a hexagonal substructure inspired by honeycombs and wasp nests. Each 8.5-meter mirror weighs 85% less than solid glass, and since air can circulate through the permeable core, cooling the glass, the image of the telescope is sharper. 
A woodpecker hammers out 25 pecks per second, hitting a tree trunk with an impact that should break its head. But the bird uses its entire body for each blow: The tail acts as a brace and spring and the spine and skull distributes the impact. For 100 years, Italian sporting firm CAMP made ice axes with straight shafts. Now , like the woodpecker, the company centered the shaft under the ax head and added a slight curve to the spine pitching it downwards like a beak rather than at a right angle. The result is a more efficient blow.
The traditional method of repairing shattered bones is to use metal screws. But what to do with small bone fragments ? The body needs a biodegradable  glue to align fractured bones. Scientists have now duplicated the glue that tiny sandcastle worms use while building their homes on the edges of the surf by sticking together bits of sand and broken sea shells.
Centrifugal pumps consume massive amounts of energy and generate tiny bubbles as they work, causing a vibration that makes them noisy and inefficient. The volute pump based on spiral shells doesn't produce bubbles, uses 20% to 40% less energy and is two-thirds quieter. The company Pax Volute is bringing its ultra efficient spiral to aerospace and medicine, heat exchange and air-conditioning, wind turbines and marine propulsion.
ChromaFlair's refractive paints are made of microthin film flakes, each less than one-tenth the width of a human hair and are based on butterfly wings. "By changing the thickness of the individual flake, we can change the colour you see." And because the paints are pigment free, the colors never fade. A butterfly wing's colourless, translucent membrane is covered with extremely fine scales (each just 100 micrometers long). When light waves reflect off the scales and combine with other light, the result is iridescence. These colours are now being used by Cadillac, Chanel and L'Oréal,
Cheetahs are the fastest moving animals on Earth. They have extremely long tendons and ligaments that attach the muscles to the skeleton. These act like giant elastic bands, storing energy when the tendon is stretched and releasing it when they return to their normal size, propelling the animal forward. Till 1976 prosthetic feet made walking slow and heavy. An inventor created a foot in 1981 that used this energy storage concept with a sense of spring and the ability to actually run on it changing the lives of disabled people.
Although a lotus leaf appears smooth, its surface actually contains tiny spikes which prevent dirt and water from adhering to the leaf. Water droplets literally roll off, taking mud, tiny insects, and contaminants with them. A NASA team is developing a transparent coating that mimics the lotus plant to prevent dirt from sticking to the surfaces of radiators, spacesuits, scientific instruments, solar array panels and windows.
Engineers at Mercedes-Benz have produce an aerodynamic, comfortable and environmentally compatible car based on the boxfish , a tropical fish which is outstandingly streamlined . Called Bionic Car it uses 20 % less fuel and has 80% less nitrogen oxide emissions
Unfortunately , just as we are beginning to recognize all there is to learn from the natural world, our models are disappearing. More than half of all native ecosystems are degraded and endangered. We need to learn in a hurry.

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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