Nature has shown solutions to problems this year, inspiring scientific discovery in a host of unexpected ways.
Nature is “a source of inspiration for science, because it has figured out the way Earth supports life,” Lex Amore from the Biomimicry Institute said.
“It is imperative we look to the biological blueprints that have been successful over millennia to launch groundbreaking ideas faster,” she said.
From forests to the depths of the oceans, there is “so much intelligence” to tap into in the natural world, Amore said.
“We can use biomimicry, this practice of studying nature and replicating its strategies in design, to not only learn from nature’s wisdom, but also heal ourselves — and this planet — in the process,” she said.
From smelly durians that could charge electric vehicles to sea sponges that might help build better spaceships, here is a selection of this year’s scientific work inspired by nature:
Removing tumors and blood clots through minimal invasive surgery might soon become easier thanks to a flexible, ultra-thin and steerable needle inspired by parasitic wasps.
These formidable insects inject their eggs into living hosts such as caterpillars through a hollow needle called the ovipositor.
Scientists from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands studied the ovipositor’s delivery mechanism, with blades that slide up and down alternately, using friction to push the eggs through.
Researchers designed a needle made up of sliding rods that imitate the ovipositor, according to a recent study in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology.
They say that the new needle is capable of reaching deeply buried parts of the body to inject medicine or remove harmful formations, while minimizing trauma and patient recovery time.
This is a starkly different outcome than for the targets of parasitic wasps, whose larva often devour their caterpillar host from the inside.
Spiders make silk to entangle unsuspecting bugs, but now humans can use it to make optical lenses capable of picturing viruses that are invisible to the naked eye.
In a June study published in the Journal of Applied Physics, scientists said that they used daddy-long-legs’ dragline silk — which makes a web’s frame — as a support for the lens.
In experiments, they covered a strand of spider silk in wax then dripped resin onto it. As it condensed, the silk naturally formed a dome, which researchers baked in an ultraviolet oven.
The resulting optical lens is about the size of a red blood cell, and could be used to picture nano-scale objects such as viruses or the insides of biological tissue.
As the lens is made from natural, non-toxic material, it can safely be used inside the body.
An intricately latticed marine sponge called the Venus’ flower basket found in the depths of the Pacific Ocean could inspire stronger skyscrapers, longer bridges and lighter spacecraft, according to a September study published in Nature Materials.
Scientists discovered that the structure of the sponge’s tubular skeleton gives it a higher strength-to-weight ratio than traditional designs that have been used for centuries for buildings and bridges.
“We’ve been studying structure-function relationships in sponge skeletal systems for more than 20 years and these species continue to surprise us,” said coauthor James Weaver, a Harvard University scientist.
To some they are succulent and delicious, to others they are so overpoweringly stinky that they are routinely banned from hotel rooms across Southeast Asia.
However, the durian might be about to add a new reason for its fame — helping to charge mobile phones and electric vehicles.
In a February study published in the Journal of Energy Storage, scientists described how they made extremely light and porous materials called aerogels from the fruit.
Aerogels are “great super-capacitors,” which resemble energy reservoirs that dole out energy smoothly, coauthor and Sydney University associate professor Vincent Gomes said.
Super-capacitors “can quickly store large amounts of energy within a small battery-sized device,” he said.
Vehicles, planes and buildings are mostly made of steel, concrete or brick. Bamboo has attracted interest as a versatile construction material, but how can it be made strong enough?
In a May study published in the ACS Nano, researchers said they had found an answer.
By partially removing the lignin — an organic substance that forms woody tissue — and microwaving the bamboo, researchers said that its strength nearly doubled.
Bamboo is already used to build houses and bridges, but this new discovery might further increase its popularity as a light, fast-growing and sustainable alternative to other materials.
On the Chinese microblogging platform Sina Weibo, enthusiastic slackers share their tips: Fill up a thermos with whiskey, do planks or stretches in the work pantry at regular intervals, drink liters of water to prompt lots of trips to the toilet on work time, and, once there, spend time on social media or playing games on your phone. “Not working hard is everyone’s basic right,” one commenter wrote. “With or without legal protection, everyone has the right to not work hard.” Young Chinese people are pushing back against an engrained culture of overwork, and embracing a philosophy of laziness known as “touching
‘STUNNED’: With help from an official at the US Department of Justice, Donald Trump reportedly planned to oust the acting attorney general in a bid to overturn the election Former US president Donald Trump was at his Florida resort on Saturday, beginning post-presidency life while US President Joe Biden settled into the White House, but in Washington and beyond, the chaos of the 45th president’s final days in office continued to throw out damaging aftershocks. In yet another earth-shaking report, the New York Times said that Trump plotted with an official at the US Department of Justice to fire the acting attorney general, then force Georgia Republicans to overturn his defeat in that state. Meanwhile, former acting US secretary of defense Christopher Miller made an extraordinary admission, telling Vanity Fair that
Boeing set a target of designing and certifying its jetliners to fly on 100 percent sustainable fuels by 2030, amid rising pressure on planemakers to take climate change seriously. Regulators allow a 50-50 blend of sustainable and conventional fuels, and Boeing on Friday said it would work with authorities to raise the limit. Rival Airbus is considering another tack: a futuristic lineup of hydrogen-powered aircraft that would reach the skies by 2035. The aircraft manufacturers face growing public clamor to cut emissions in the aviation industry, which added more than 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in 2019, according to
Mongolian Prime Minister Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh on Thursday resigned following a protest over a hospital’s treatment of a new mother who tested positive for COVID-19. Khurelsukh, whose Mongolian People’s Party holds a strong majority in the parliament known as the State Great Khural, stepped down after accusing Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga of the Democratic Party of orchestrating a political crisis. A small protest broke out in the capital, Ulan Bator, on Wednesday after TV footage appeared of a woman who had just given birth being escorted in slippers and a thin robe from the maternity ward to a special wing for COVID-19 patients