Copying Nature's Methods

Much of what science and technology are able to do today have been made possible because man has copied what he has seen in the natural world. We learned to fly by watching birds, for example, and have built hundreds of devices by seeing them in the natural world. One might think that there are not a lot of things left to learn from nature now that we have computers and electronic devices, but that is not the case.

 A new science called biomimetics involves taking engineering principals in material science and applying them to man-made materials. Bell Labs scientists have been working on how to produce micro-patterned crystals for a variety of uses. In the past micro-patterned crystals have been produced by grinding down materials to whatever was desired. Bell Telephone scientists discovered that the exoskeletons of brittlestars in the ocean have micro-patterned crystals produced by a depositing process in which successive layers of mineral are deposited to make the desired pattern.

In the brittlestar's case the crystals avoid birefringence and spherical aberration. This is a nano-patterned material that will allow patterns in man-made materials of less than 10 microns across. Bell will use this information in opto-electronic circuits. To maintain that such precision is a chance phenomena denies common sense. Design in living things speaks eloquently of wisdom far beyond that of man.


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