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Swimming with Sharks

McDonald shark flickr 3

Originally appears in the Winter 2012-2013 issue

“Biomimicry is the science and art of emulating Nature’s best biological ideas to solve human problems.”[i] Humans have been using biomimicry for thousands of years. It seems that we have only recently re-discovered this fact, and are starting to learn and replicate how nature solves problems. Instead of saying “How can I solve this problem”, we now ask “how does nature solve this problem?”  By using nature as a model we can create more efficient systems that have been proven to work through evolutionary time. As an example of biomimicry, engineers needed to solve the problem of drag in wind turbines blades. To do that, they paired up with researchers studying whale fins, which are aerodynamic. Now wind turbines are designed with the same ridges as whale fins to help reduce drag by about 35%. This in turn increases the amount of energy available.[ii]

Although sharks live in a foreign world, to us, they can offer problem solving solutions by learning about their lifestyles. Sharks are effective aquatic creatures that have survived for millions of years. By studying their swimming, scales, breathing, electromagnetic system and more we can begin to emulate them and create a more sustainable and bio-healthy way of living.

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Karen McDonald is the Education Outreach Coordinator for the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland. In her spare time, she develops educational models in an effort to promote a strong interest in biomimicry and learning from nature.

[i]  Biomimicry Institute, 2009.

[ii]  Many more examples can be found at <www.biomimicryinstitute.org>.