As designers, engineers and scientists continue developing solutions for the increasingly complex challenges of the future, they often look to nature for answers.
This approach, known as biomimicry, seeks to imitate biological designs or processes found in the natural world. For a great example of biomimicry, consider National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee George de Mestral’s invention of VELCRO® fasteners. The idea for a hook and loop design came to him after observing the way a burr’s barbed hooks clung to clothing.
The kingfisher and the bullet train
Sometimes, designers look to use biomimicry to solve more immediate concerns. This was true for engineers working on Japan Railways Group (JR Group) Shinkansen trains. While the earlier 500-series models were able to teach an impressive 200 mph, the bullet-shaped nose of the train created an atmospheric pressure wave as it traveled through narrow tunnels. This resulted in a deafening “tunnel boom” as the train exited the tunnel, exceeding the acceptable noise levels established by the Japanese government.
Eiji Nakatsu, an engineer working for JR Group, was tasked with finding a solution. His inspiration came from his love of birdwatching. Specifically, he became fascinated with how kingfishers can silently dive into the water. What allows this is the bird’s wedge-shaped beak, which increases in diameter from the tip to its head, causing the water to flow past the beak instead of being pushed to the front. By redesigning the nose of the train to mimic the shape of a kingfisher’s beak, and adding structures to the pantograph to mimic an owl’s ability to fly silently through the air, Nakatsu and his team were able to reduce the noise produced by these fast-moving trains to acceptable levels.
How can you use nature to invent solutions for the future?
In Elevate, our brand-new program for the 2020 Camp Invention® season, children are encouraged to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) while seeking inspiration from the world around them, from understanding the science of flight to learning how to protect fragile ecosystems. To learn more about Elevate and to sign your child up today, check out our website!