If you’ve been following my writings at all, you know I am an ardent disciple of nature. I learn all sorts of things by observing and working in the garden, hiking our preserves and generally enjoying the outdoors. Life lessons, science lessons, art lessons. My muse for painting, poetry and other worthwhile pursuits. So, I’m always interested in how others have absorbed and interpreted their understanding in nature. Boy! Have we learned plenty! Without the guidance from Nature, I doubt we’d have come this far.
From the beginning of time, humans have improved their lot by observing their natural surroundings. From eating plants and fruits sought by other animals to keeping warm by covering themselves with what inherently served the animal, man has been an avid student of nature. Early instruments of surgery were fashioned after different beaks of birds – emulating the specific function of the avian proboscis. Our ancestors studied plants and learned to use them for building shelter, water transportation, ammunition, clothing, medicine, cosmetics to name just a few applications. Water sources could be discovered by noting which types of plants grew near water. Not surprisingly, we are still acquiring valuable information and inventing lifesaving/life prolonging/ life enhancing products from the environment. Humans are like the 3M ad – “We didn’t invent ——, we just make it better”.
Consider the Fibonacci numbers or sequence that is applied amongst other things in computer algorithms. In mathematics, Fibonacci numbers, the Golden Ratio and Golden Spiral are commonplace. But, these occur all over the place in nature. It is Nature’s numbering system that makes plants grow efficiently. How leaves are arranged conforms to Fibonacci arrangement and it enables them to maximize their exposure to light. Similarly, seed patterns on sunflowers, pine cones, nautilus shells, our own inner ear spiral are all in Fibonacci patterns. Imagine how much humans have learned to design more efficiently and effectively from just this one mathematical factor!
Bringing matters to current times, there is now a new and better type of bicycle helmet on the market. It is made of intricately engineered paper. Yes, paper. Invented in the UK, it was inspired by the woodpecker. This bird pecks about ten times per second and each peck sustains the same amount of force as us crashing at 50 mph. How then does the woodpecker avoid concussion and further brain injury? Studies showed that there is soft, corrugated cartilage to absorb all the impact. The paper helmet mimics the woodpecker’s crumple zone. It improves upon the more common polystyrene helmets. Very cool right?
The latest and most waterproof material ever made to date was inspired by studying nasturtium leaves. Until recently, the lotus leaf was the gold standard. But upon observing the heightened waterproof character of nasturtium leaves, it was understood that the veins are what make it so additionally effective. Similarly, the Morpho butterfly has ridges on its wings. So, adding ridges to a silicone surface led to this state of the art material. It was invented here in the US and can be used in anoraks, wind turbines and aircraft engines.
Bioplastics from beetles, ink from insects and even bees being trained for cancer detection are all in the works. Apparently, it takes just 20 minutes to train the bees! The mind boggles at all the potential still waiting to be tapped in our great outdoors.
All of this just goes to show that it is incumbent on each of us to fiercely protect our forests, prairies, rivers and lakes. The very air we breathe depends on us doing right by it. At a personal level, we must safeguard our gardens by not only making them beautiful, but rich in natural flora and fauna. Where the soil is free of chemicals, where fruits and vegetables can be consumed directly from the garden, where flowers provide their pollinators only the purest of nectar. A garden where birds, bees, butterflies, bats and other beneficial creatures thrive, is a garden where mankind will thrive.
Don’t forget– my garden is open on May 10 this year!
(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar