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Biomimetics is on everyone’s lips and it is now difficult to imagine a future where it does not play a key role in the development of our society. The development of new materials is not unconcerned with this new discipline, though we must be aware of what we can obtain (and what we cannot) from imitating nature.

Living in a material world

The history of humanity begins with the development of civilisations that today we group into technological phases defined by the material that at any given time attained the highest degree of development (Stone Age, Copper Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age). Ever since, the development of the human being has been closely linked to his relationship with the materials that surround him: how to extract them, how to transform them, how to use them, how to synthesise them, how to recycle them… right from the earliest materials that man extracted from nature (timber, clay, stone, etc) to the use of the application of heat to the revolution in nanotechnology and nanoscience.

Technological Challenges

The technological challenges are the greatest ever faced by man in all his history. Despite having perfected the extraction of raw materials, dominated the synthesis of new materials, developed processing and manufacturing technologies and used different sources of energy for our activities, we have barely taken into account the consequences that all these phases had on our surroundings.

We are currently living in the silicon era, a new revolution that has propitiated the development of electronics and information and communication technologies.

Today we know that the environmental vector cannot be neglected in our activities; it has to be considered as a factor of maximum importance. In this context, recent decades have seen the emergence of a new discipline called bionics or biomimetics. These terms became popular as the result of the publication of the book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature (1997) by Janine Beynus, which deals with “a new science that studies models from nature and is inspired in these designs and processes to address human problems”.

Biomimetics and sustainability

Science and Engineering have always had nature as a model and have used it to prosper; however, in recent times this natural study has become systematised, coherently involving professionals from different disciplines (biologists, designers, physicists, engineers, chemists, etc) to maximise the benefits extracted from the knowledge of Nature. While currently it still contains secrets that we cannot decipher, there is no doubt that the mimicry of natural processes, materials and solutions will be one of society’s routes to development and innovation.

At this point we have to stop and reflect: is biomimetics the universal solution to our environmental problems? The answer is no. Biomimetics is a tool under development and a source of innovation; a “new” (insofar as it refers to systematisation) starting point and approach to the search for occasional solutions to the challenges set by technological development. And we cannot always obtain the sought-for answer from Nature; at this point, as researchers well know, we need to change the model and continue to probe.

But there is still a tendency to directly associate biomimetics with sustainability, as if the former unequivocally involved the latter. There is no doubt that Nature can teach us much about how to protect life and resources (she has been doing it for millions of years), but knowing how to properly channel the information she provides towards developments that represent an environmental advance depends on us only insofar as it helps in “limiting the damage to the environment”.

Post from Hello Materials