Biomimicry refers to the design of materials and structures based on plants, animals or natural processes. Scientists have been at this stuff for decades, but recent reports suggest that one British researcher has taken things to a whole new level. Julian Huguet does the math in today's DNews report.
Emeritus Professor Wanda Lewis, from the University of Warwick School of Engineering, has spent the last 25 years studying forms and shapes in nature, and developing precise mathematical models for use in engineering.
Lewis recently unveiled her findings -- including a system called "form-finding" -- and it may very well revolutionize the way we build things. In particular, Lewis contends that her models can be used to build virtually indestructible bridges. That would be nice, considering that there are an estimated 58,000 bridges in the U.S. alone deemed structurally deficient.
The basic gist is this: The arches and domes that builders have been using for several thousand years now create complex stresses than weaken structures over time. This is why buildings and bridges need constant monitoring and maintenance. The shapes that we're used to are largely informed by aesthetic principles -- they're symmetrical and proportioned and pleasing to the eye. But they aren't necessarily structurally sound.
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But by looking to nature, Lewis contends, we can actually take a fundamentally new approach to engineering that minimizes or eliminates complex stresses. Lewis form-finding models implement natural design principles drawn from the shape of trees, the architecture of a water bubble, and even the very process of gravity itself.
'We have been programmed to view some shapes, such as circular arches or spherical domes as aesthetic," Lewis says in press materials from the university. "We often build them regardless of the fact that they generate complex stresses, and are, therefore, structurally inefficient."
Lewis' research includes proposals on the concept of optimal arch, which has been debated throughout history. Her work has just been published in the equally historic journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.
Check out Julian's report for some helpful visuals on how all this comes together, along with some interesting historical connections to Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, who was hip to biomimicry when biomimicry wasn't hip at all.
-- Glenn McDonald
Proceedings Of The Royal Society A: Mathematical Model Of A Moment-Less Arch
BBC: Nine Incredible Buildings Inspired By Nature
The Verge: 130 Years Later, Modern Software Helps Complete Gaudi's Architectural Masterpiece