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Learning from Trees and Bones How to Optimize Strength and Materials The next time you drive through a forest, go ahead and thank the trees out your window for helping on your car's crash safety and gas mileage. Trees engineer themselves in a number of ways to maximize their strength, such as arranging their fibers to minimize stress and adding material where strength is needed (take a look at the extra material beneath a heavy branch, for instance). Bones – unlike trees in that they must carry moving loads – go a step further by removing material where it's not needed, optimizing their structure for their dynamic workloads. Engineers have incorporated these and other lessons learned from how trees and bones optimize their strength and minimize their use of materials into software design programs, such as Claus Matteck's “Soft Kill Option” software, which are revolutionizing industrial design.
The Biomimicry 3.8 Institute is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the study and imitation of nature’s remarkably efficient designs, bringing together scientists, engineers, architects and innovators who can use those models to create sustainable technologies. The Institute offers short-term workshops and two-year certificate courses in biomimicry for professionals, and helps to develop and share resources including biomimicry-related K-12 and university curricula used in a range of educational venues, from K-12 classrooms to universities, as well as informal settings such as zoos, aquariums and museums. The Institute also serves as a resource for biological researchers around the world and a clearinghouse for their insights, data, and reports.
One cloudless midsummer day in February, Andrew Parker, an evolutionary biologist, knelt in the baking red sand of the Australian outback just south of Alice Springs and eased the right hind leg of a thorny devil into a dish of water. The maneuver was not as risky as it sounds: Though covered with sharp spines, the lizard stood only about an inch high at the shoulder, and it looked up at Parker apprehensively, like a baby dinosaur that had lost its mother. It seemed too cute for its harsh surroundings, home to an alarmingly high percentage of the world's most venomous snakes, including the inland taipan, which can kill a hundred people with an ounce of its venom, and the desert death adder, whose name pretty well says it all.