Biomimicry, also called bionics, is a branch of study which focuses on using nature as an inspiration to solve problems faced by the humans on Earth. People have been practicing biomimicry for centuries, but it has become a topic of special interest in the modern world in the hopes that it could be a driving force behind more sustainable design. Many companies have invested significant funds in biomimicry studies, which look at new ways to design everything from solar panels to textiles.
Chances are high that you have an example of biomimicry in your close vicinity. Velcro, for example, is probably one of the best-known examples of this branch of inquiry, supposedly developed by a scientist who noted that burrs had amazing abilities when it came to sticking to textiles. Biomimicry has also been used to do things like redesign buildings based on insect mounds, which are designed to hold temperatures at stable levels, and using leaves as inspiration for solar panels, to increase the amount of energy which could be collected from the sun.
The term biomimicry literally translates as “imitation of life,” but this is an oversimplistic definition of biomimicry. The idea is not to imitate nature perfectly, but to use ideas from nature to inspire human solutions. People who work in this field believe that nature has the experience of centuries, and that therefore it is possible that nature has engineered some very ingenious, efficient, and smart solutions to problems it has faced. These solutions, in turn, could be used to inform research on human issues.
Biomimicry has a heavy focus on sustainability, efficiency, and rethinking the way that we do things. For example, people who do research in biomimicry often focus on the idea of garbage; in nature, there is no true garbage, as things are constantly recycled and retooled to make them useful. Researchers suggest that nature's approach to “waste” should be adapted to the human lifestyle, developing things which have multiple potential uses, and materials which can break down when they have outlived their usefulness.
Someone who wants to work in the field of biomimicry may come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Engineers and people with backgrounds in the hard sciences are common, as are students of environmental studies, design, and biology. Often, a team of individuals works together to achieve a common goal, determining together what they want an invention to do, and then thinking about the best way to accomplish that, using examples from nature as a starting point.