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Need a New Idea? Go Outside and Look Around!

Ruth Hartnup on Flickr

Did you ever think about how Mother Nature never has to Google anything? Plants and animals all around the globe know instinctively what to do, and how to survive and thrive in the surroundings they find themselves in. Luckily, lots of people have noticed this.

Many things we use every day have been inspired by observing nature, and how it all works. Everything from butterfly wings to bird nests to termites can teach us something that will help us solve our human problems if we look hard enough. This is called biomimicry. That means investigating how nature has evolved to solve problems, and then implementing what was learned.

The professional association for engineers, IEEE (“I triple E”), has a lot of resources you and the adults in your life can use to explore biomimicry and other fun engineering topics. There are lesson plans, links to learn more, and other information. Biomimicry materials can be found at https://tryengineering.org/teacher/biomimicry-engineering.

But in the meantime, check out these amazing examples of great ideas by humans that are actually not human at all.

Building a Bird’s Nest

Many birds build nests using twigs they push and bend into a woven pattern that protects their eggs. The nest can be extremely sturdy. For the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government built a stadium inspired by these nests, with steel beams instead of twigs. The result is a massive sturdy building, unlike typical sports stadiums. And it reflects Chinese culture where bird nests are considered a food delicacy.

Lotus Leaves Keeping it Clean

No one likes to get soaking wet in a rainstorm, especially if you have a coat on. But coats don’t magically repel water. Instead, they use a technique that lotus flowers use to repel water. Lotus leaves have lots of tiny bumps. These bumps shape any water drops that fall on them into balls which make it much easier for water to roll off their leaves. This technique also works for paints used on buildings, as well as materials like clothing.

Butterfly Wings Cut Bank Fraud

If you’ve looked at the wings of butterflies, especially tropical butterflies, you’ve seen how their wings change color as the butterfly moves. This effect isn’t caused by color. It’s caused by light bouncing off the structure of scales on their wings. Every color combination is unique to each butterfly. Scientists have figured out how to use this natural effect to make it harder to create fake printed currency like dollar bills and passports.

Whales and Wind Turbines

Whales are 40-50 feet long and weigh around 80000 pounds (40 tons), yet underwater they’re able to turn tight circles as they feed on krill. Their large fins have large irregular bumps that give whales a lot more control of their body position than smooth fins. The shape of their fins is used to make wind turbines more efficient with less resistance to air passing over their blades.

Down Feather Jackets

While it’s obvious that stuffing a coat with down feathers will keep you warm, as it keeps ducks warm, how do these light feathers keep you warm? Feathers are like leaves with a central core and branches called barbules. Down feathers have lots of hooks to keep other barbules close. Their hooks hold other feathers closer to keep warm air close to you.

Air Conditioning for Termites

Eastgate Centre in Zimbabwe is another building inspired by nature, in this case by termites. The building uses 90% less energy by mimicking how termites keep cool in the heat. Termites build mounds and nests. While the walls appear to be solid, in fact, they have many pores that allow air to flow easily into and out of their mounds. This regulates temperature.

Hairy Toes

How do geckos climb up straight walls and hang from ceilings? Their little toes have tiny hairs that can only be seen with a microscope. These hairs effectively stick to surfaces as they climb and then as easily unstick. Imitating geckos has led to inventions like adhesives, and can be used by robots.

Learn More



Biomimicry is Inspiring Human Innovation


Amazing Examples of Biomimicry


Biomimicry: Using Nature’s Perfect Innovations


Biomimicry Video for Kids


What is Biomimicry?


Biomimicry is Real World Inspiration


Great Lakes Biomimicry


The Promise of Biomimicry


Biomimicry in Architecture


Examples of Biomimicry


Five Things to Know About Biomimicry




Biomimicry for Kids


Stealing Ideas from Nature


Biomimicry Video


10 Awesome Examples of Biomimicry


Biomimicry Science Project Ideas


Biomimicry: Kids Activities and Resources


Examples of Biomimicry