What We can Learn from Animals
Every single animal possesses many astonishing features given to it at creation. Some enjoy the ideal hydrodynamic form to allow them to move through water; others use rather outlandish sensory devices. Most of these are devices that mankind has encountered for the first time, or has just begun to grasp. Thanks to the science of biomimicry, products emerging from the imitation of these extraordinary discoveries will no doubt be employed frequently in our future.
Surface Drag and Swimsuits Inspired by Shark Skin
In Olympic swimming competitions, 1/100th of a second can make the difference between winning and losing. Because the resistive drag opposing the motion of swimmers' bodies is of great importance, many swimmers choose newly-designed swimsuits that reduce the drag. These tightly fitting suits, covering a rather large area of the body, are made out of a fabric which was designed to mimic the properties of a shark's skin by superimposing vertical resin stripes.
Scanning electron microscope studies have revealed that tiny "teeth" (riblets) cover the surface of a sharks' skin that produce vertical vortices or spirals of water, keeping the water closer to the shark's body and thus reducing drag. This phenomenon is known as the Riblet Effect, and research into shark skin is ongoing at NASA Langley Research Center.
Swimsuits made with new fibers and weaving techniques are produced to cling tightly to the swimmer's body and reduce drag as much as possible. Research has shown that such garments can reduce drag by 8% over ordinary swimsuits.70
USA Takes the Viper as a Model in Its Defense
Dr. John Pearce, of the University of Texas Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, has studied Crotalines, better known as pit vipers.
His research focused on the pit organs of these snakes. In front of the snake's eye is a tiny nerve-rich depression, called the pit, which is used in locating warm-blooded prey. It contains a sophisticated heat-sensing system—so sensitive, in fact, that the snake can detect a mouse several meters away in pitch darkness.71
The researchers stated that when they unravel the secrets of the pit viper's search-and-destroy mechanism, the methods the snake employs can be adapted more widely to protect the country from enemy missiles. They hope to develop systems that will help pilots flying dangerous missions avoid enemy weaponry. Dr. Pearce says, "The Air Force wants to see if they can mimic the biological system and get a better missile detector."72 But so far, he explains that studies carried out to that end have found it difficult to match the snake's sensitivity:
We're basically modeling the sensitivity of the snake organ. You can measure nerve impulses, but the question is, what do those impulses mean? We use a numerical model to tell us: there's this much infrared hitting the organ, and that means this many nerve pulses.73
The snake's pit is a thin membrane rich in blood vessels and nerve bundles. The membrane is so sensitive, and the variations in the responses so minute and subtle that to catch and study these signals has proved exceedingly difficult. To understand the functioning of the pit organ, it is necessary to work with delicate measurements and photomicrographs.
As this example shows, living things in nature display a superior intelligence and technology. Researchers investigating natural designs as their models thus acquire inspiration for projects that might otherwise last years and bring them to a conclusion in a much shorter time.
Chameleons and Clothes that Change Color
The impressive ability that chameleons have to change colors to match their surroundings is both astonishing and aesthetically pleasing. The chameleon can camouflage itself at a speed that quite amazes people.
With great expertise, the chameleon uses its cells called chromatophores which contain basic yellow and red pigments, the reflective layer reflecting blue and white light, and the melanophores containing the black to dark brown pigment melanin, which darkens its color.74
For instance, place a chameleon into a bright yellow environment, and it quickly turns yellow. In addition, the chameleon can match not only one single color, but a mixture of hues. The secret behind this lies in the way pigment-containing cells under this master of camouflage's skin expand or contract to match their surroundings.
Current research under way at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, is aimed at making clothes, bags and shoes able to change colors the same way as the chameleon does. Researchers envision clothing made from the newly developed fiber, which can reflect all the light that hits it, and equipped with a tiny battery pack. This technology will allow the clothing to change colors and patterns in seconds by means of a switch on the pack.75 Yet this technology is still very expensive. For instance, the cost of a color-changing man's jacket is around $10,000.
What would you think if someone showed you a jacket and claimed, "This can change color. Yet nobody prepared the jacket, nor its ability to change color. It all just happened by itself." Probably you'd imagine that person to be mad or else very ignorant. Quite clearly, there must have been a tailor to put it together, and even before that, engineers to create its ability to change color.
So, how can the chameleon carry out these impeccable changes? Did it design the systems that permit the change, install them inside its own body, and carry out the processes all by itself? Of course it would be most irrational to claim that the chameleon did this all of its own free will. Since even human beings find it definitely impossible to bring about such a change, how can a reptile install a system capable of changing its own body's appearance? To claim that such a superior ability came about by chance is nonsensical and invalid.
No natural mechanism has the power to form such impeccable abilities and bestow them on the living things that need it. A superior power rules the atoms, molecules, and cells in the creature's body and arranges them as it wishes. God, Who created the chameleons, reveals to us the incomparable nature of His creation in such examples. As is revealed in the Qur'an, God is All-Powerful:
Everything in the heavens and the earth glorifies God.
515-Million-Year-Old Optic Design
In an article published in American Scientist, the well-known US scientific magazine, Andrew R. Parker states that he and his colleagues examined a mummified fly preserved in amber resin for 45 million years. There was a periodic grating structure on the curved surfaces of the fly ommatidia (individual visual organs composing the fly's compound eye). Analyzing the reflective properties of this structure, they realized that the fly-eye structure was a very efficient antireflector, particularly at high angles of incidence. This hypothesis was indeed confirmed in later studies.
Thanks to these findings and others, today's scientists have determined how to greatly increase the efficiency of solar absorbers and solar panels used to provide energy for satellites. Work is currently under way to reduce the angular reflection of infrared (heat) and other light waves by mimicking the fly-eye structure. Most suitable for use in solar panel surfaces, the fly-eye grating has also done away with the necessity for expensive equipment to ensure that these panels are always directly facing the Sun.76
Only recently have space technologists discovered and imitated this design, but flies have possessed it for millions of years. Similar structures have recently been discovered also on some Burgess Shale fossils, 515 million years old. Permitting very acute and color vision, this design shows just what a superior product of creation it really is. But such evidence can be comprehended only by believers—those who can use their reason to comprehend that everything that exists is under God's control.
One verse describes how similar proofs mean nothing to those who deny God:
God is not ashamed to use the example of a mosquito or of an even smaller thing.
Stenocara: A Fully-Fledged Water Capturing Unit
In the desert, where few living things are to be found, some species possess the most astonishing designs. One of these is the tenebrinoid beetle Stenocara, which lives in the Namib Desert, in Southern Africa. A report in the November 1, 2001, edition of Nature describes how this beetle collects the water so vital to its survival.
Stenocara's water capture system basically depends on a special feature of its back, whose surface is covered with tiny bumps. The surface of the regions between these bumps is wax-coated, though the peaks of the bumps are wax-free. This allows the beetle to collect in a more productive manner.
Stenocara extracts from the air the water vapor that occurs only rarely in its desert environment. What is remarkable is how it separates out the water from the desert air, where tiny water droplets evaporate very quickly due to heat and wind. Such droplets, weighing almost nothing, are borne along parallel to the ground by the wind. The beetle, behaving as if it knew this, tilts its body forwards into the wind. Thanks to its unique design, droplets form on the wings and roll down the beetle's surface to its mouthparts.77
The article about Stenocara included the following comment: "The mechanism by which water is extracted from the air and formed into large droplets has so far not been explained, despite its biomimetic potential."78
Examining the features of this beetle's back under an electron microscope, scientists established that it's a perfect model for water-trapping tent and building coverings, or water condensers and engines. Designs of such a complex nature cannot come about just by themselves or through natural events. Also, it's impossible for a tiny beetle to have "invented" any system of such extraordinary design. Just Stenocara alone is sufficient to prove that our Creator designed everything that exists.
100% Efficient Light-Generating Fireflies
From the tip of their abdomens, fireflies produce greeny-yellow light. This light is produced in cells containing a chemical called luciferin, which reacts with oxygen and an enzyme known as luciferase. The beetle can turn the light on and off by varying the amount of air entering its cells from its breathing tubes. A normal household bulb has a productivity level of 10%, the other 90% of the energy being wasted as heat. But in a firefly, almost 100% of the energy produced is light, representing with this very efficient process, a target for scientists to aim for.79
What force allows fireflies to engage in such a high level of efficiency? According to evolutionists, the answer lies in unconscious atoms, happenstance, or other external factors with no propulsive force; none of which can possess the power to actually initiate such productive activity. God's art is infinite and incomparable. In many verses of the Qur'an, God speaks of the need for people to use reason to consider and draw lessons from what He has created. Therefore, man's responsibility is to consider God's miracles and turn only towards Him.
A Solution to Traffic Problems from Locusts!
Auto accidents cost millions of lives every year. In its search for a solution, the scientific world now believes that locusts might offer just such a remedy. Even though locusts travel in swarms of millions, research has shown that they never collide with one another. The answer to how locusts avoid doing so led to the opening of a whole new scientific horizon.
Experiments determined that locusts send out an electronic signal to any body approaching them to identify that body's location, and then change direction accordingly.80 Inventors are now trying to implement the method locusts employ in order to resolve a problem that has remained intractable for years. These creatures, behaving in the way God inspires them to, are among the clearest proofs of creation.
Birds' Flight Methods as a Model for High-Speed Trains
When Japanese engineers and scientists were designing their high-speed 500-Series electric trains, they encountered a major problem: Examining wild birds for the perfect solution, soon they found the design they were seeking and implemented it successfully.
Owl Flight and High-Speed Train Noise
In the high-speed trains developed by the Japanese, safety is one of the most important factors. A second is compatibility with Japanese environmental standards. Japan's noise regulations regarding railway operators are the strictest in the world. Using current technology, it's not actually that difficult to go faster, though it's hard to eliminate noise while doing so. Under Japanese Environment Agency regulations, a railway's noise levels must not exceed 75 decibels at a point 25 meters (82 feet) away from the center of railway track in urban areas. At a crossing in a town, when cars start to move all at once on the green light, they create more than 80 decibels. This goes to show just how quiet the high-speed Shinkansen train must be.
The reason for the noise that a train produces up to a certain operation speed is the rolling of its wheels on the tracks. At speeds of 200 kmph (125 mph) or over, however, the sound source becomes the aerodynamic noise caused by its movement through the air.
The major sources of aerodynamic noise are the pantographs, or current collectors, used to take in electricity from overhead catenary. Engineers, realizing that they couldn't reduce noise levels with the conventional rectangular pantographs, concentrated their research on animals that move quickly, yet silently.
Of all birds, owls make the least noise during flight. One of the ways they manage this is through the plumes of their wings. In addition, an owl's wings have many small saw-toothed feathers (serrations) visible even to the naked eye, which other birds lack. These serrations generate small vortexes in the air flow. Aerodynamic noise stems from vortexes forming in the air flow. As these grow in size, the noise increases. Since owls' wings feature many saw-toothed projections, they form smaller vortexes instead of large ones, and the owls can fly very quietly.
When Japanese designers and engineers tested stuffed owls in a wind tunnel, they once again witnessed the perfection of these birds' wing design. Later, they succeeded in efficiently reducing train noise by using wing-shaped pantographs based on the principle of the owl's serrations. Thus the pantograph system developed by the Japanese, inspired by nature, became the quietest functioning.81
The Kingfisher's Dive and High-Speed Trains' Entry into Tunnels
The tunnels on the lines used by high-speed trains represented another problem for engineers to solve. When a train enters a tunnel at a high speed, atmospheric pressure waves rise up and gradually grow up to be like tidal waves that approach the exit of the tunnel at the same sonic speed. At the exit, the waves then return. At the tunnel's exit, part of the pressure waves is released with a sometimes explosive noise.
Since the pressure of the waves is about one thousandth of atmospheric pressure or less, they're referred to as tunnel micro-pressure waves, which form as shown in the diagram.
The very disturbing noise created under the influence of the pressure waves can be reduced by widening the tunnel, but the task of altering the cross-sectional area of tunnels is very difficult and expensive.
At first, engineers thought that reducing the cross-sectional area of trains and making the forefront shape sharp and smooth might be a solution. They put these ideas into action in an experimental train, but remained unable to eliminate the micro-pressure waves it created.
Wondering if similar dynamics arose in nature, the designers and engineers thought of the kingfisher. In order to hunt its prey, the kingfisher dives into water, which has greater fluid resistance than air, and it experiences sudden changes in the resistance like a train does when it enters a tunnel.
Accordingly, a train traveling at 300 kmph (186 mph) needs to have a forefront shape like a kingfisher's beak, which facilitates the bird's diving.
Studies conducted by the Japanese Railway Technical Research Institute and the University of Kyushu revealed that the ideal shape to suppress tunnel micro-pressure waves was a shape of revolving paraboloid or a wedge. A close-up cross-section of a kingfisher's upper and lower beak form precisely this shape.82 The kingfisher is yet another example of how all living things are created with exactly what they need to survive—and whose designs can serve as models for human beings.
Peacock Feathers and Self-Changing Display Signs
In a peacock's feathers, the keratin protein together with the brown feather pigment melanin, the only pigment these feathers contain, allow light to refract so that we can see the color. The light and dark colors we see in feathers derive from the directional layering of keratin. Peacock feathers' exceedingly bright hues stem from this structural feature.
Nature inspired one Japanese company to develop reusable display signs, whose surfaces are structurally altered under ultraviolet light which changes the materials's crystalline alignment, thus eliminating certain colors so as to display the desired message. These signs can be used over and over and imprinted with new images. This eliminates the cost of producing new signs, as well as the need for using toxic paints.83
A Computer Solution from Butterflies
We use computers so extensively that they've become part of every moment of our lives 24 hours a day—at home, at work, even in our cars. Computer technology is developing rapidly day by day, and increasing living standards require of computers' functioning to increase at the same pace, growing faster all the time. The latest models can achieve breathtaking speeds, and faster chips mean that computers can carry out more tasks in less time. However, faster chips lead to greater consumption of electricity, which warms up the chips as a result. It is essential for computer chips to be cooled down to prevent them from melting. The existing fans are no longer sufficient to cool down the latest generation of chips. Designers seeking a solution to this problem eventually declared that they had found a solution in nature.
Butterfly wings contain a perfect structure in their design. Research carried out at Tufts University has revealed that there is a cooling system in butterfly wings. When this system is compared to that in computer chips, it has a much better performance. A team headed by assistant research professor of mechanical engineering Peter Wong was funded by the American National Science Foundation to study how iridescent butterflies control heat.
Since butterflies are cold-blooded, they have to constantly regulate their body temperatures. This is a serious problem, because friction during flight leads to considerable quantities of heat. This heat needs to be cooled down at once. Otherwise, the butterfly will not survive. The solution is provided by the millions of microscopic scales, called thin-film structures, clinging to their wings. The heat generated is thus dispersed.84
The team estimates that this research will become useful for chip manufacturers like Intel and Motorola in the near future. But in butterflies, this matchless design has been around for as long as they have. That butterfly wings embody such a flawless solution introduces us to the wisdom and power of the Creator. That power belongs to God, Who has dominion and power over all.
70 Hideki Takagi, Ross Sanders, "Hydrodynamics makes a splash," Physics World, September 2000.
71 "Heat-seeking vipers may help with U.S. defense, UT Austin researcher finds," On Campus, vol.28, no.08, 27 June 2001; http://www.utexas.edu/admin/opa/oncampus/01oc_issues/oc010627/oc_vipers.html
74 International Wildlife, September-October 1992, p. 34.
75 Ann Marie Cunningham, "Clothes That Change Color," ScienCentral.Inc., www.sciencentral.com.
76 Parker, A.R., "Light-reflection strategies," American Scientist (1999a) 87 (3), 248-255; http://www.rdg.ac. uk/Biomim/00parker.htm
77 Parker, A. R., "Water capture by a desert beetle," Nature 414, 2001, pp. 33-34.
79 Stuart Blackman, "Fatal Flasher," BBC Wildlife, April 1998, vol.16, no.4, p. 60.
81 Eiji Nakatsu, "Learning From Nature - A Flight of Wild Birds and Railways," http://www.wbsj.org/birdwatching/contribution/97_910e.html
83 "Biomimicry", Buckminster Fuller Institute; http://www.bfi.org/Trimtab/spring01/biomimicry.htm
84 Ilan Greenberg, "Butterflies Show Path to Cooler Chips," Wired News, http://wired-vig.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,10163,00.html.