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Have you noticed a sunflower closely? The petals arrange themselves so intricately in an outward spiral pattern. Such is the case with its head, which is covered with many smaller disk flowers crowded together in an outward spiral based on the Golden ratio. Another flower called the Bromeliad has petals arranged similarly. There are countless other flowers in nature where you will find this pattern. While we’re discussing the outward spiral based on the Golden ratio and Fibonacci series, there are many other instances in nature where this pattern is so clearly visible. Seashells, pine cones, pineapple skin, starfish, our milky way galaxy, the vortex of a hurricane, and surprisingly, our own body!
However, in the case of these bromeliads, the outward spiral pattern also serves a purpose. The bromeliads grow in the tropical Americas where rain is scarce. So, to preserve whatever water is available, the bromeliads use their outward spiral structure to draw the water in. The surface of the flower petals is made of a hydrophobic fiber, just like lotus leaves, that repels water and all the water flows down the spiral channels. Genius, right? Indeed.
Based on the bromeliads, students from the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Mexico, along with their professor Erendira Estrella Martinez have designed a water collection system called the Chaac Ha (the Mayan God of rain) for the rural Mexican communities which can collect over 2.5 liters of clean water every night from dew and even more during rains. The design is made from locally available and biodegradable materials. The rainwater catching membrane is made from Teflon, which is flexible and waterproof, thus mimicking the way bromeliads collect water. The structure is inspired by spider webs and is made from a set of radial bamboo sticks, reused from fishing in the region. The best part is that the design is collapsible to allow for portability. Their design was recognized with the Autodesk Sustainability Workshop Award during the 2012-2013 Students Design Challenge.
A Brazilian startup, Nucleário, designed a product to make the forest restoration processes more efficient. Pedro Rutman and his brother Bruno Rutman found inspiration for their design from three elements found in nature: bromeliads, for their capacity to hold water and collect biodiversity; plant litter, because it protects soil from leaching; and winged seeds because they are nature’s strategy for dispersion via wind. The product’s light, the reusable structure has a barrier that keeps cutter ants away, impedes the growth of invasive grasses, and stores water for dry periods. The design won the Ray of Hope prize from the Biomimicry Institute in 2018 which gave them the required momentum and attention around the world.
Thank you, Erendira Estrella Martinez, the students, Pedro and Bruno Rutman, for your curiosity, research, and contribution to humanity!
Living organisms have evolved well-adapted structures and materials over geological time through natural selection. Biomimetics has given rise to new technologies inspired by biological solutions at macro and nanoscales. Humans have looked at nature for answers to problems throughout our existence. Understanding nature and its meticulous efforts in the form of evolution of different species that thrive in different environments has given us millions of years of research and development, as we can call it. Hence, it only makes sense to take advantage of such an invaluable resource to design better products and solve many of our problems.
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