a1 Centre for Biomimetic and Natural Technologies, Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, United Kingdom
I’ve long been suspicious about attempts to see energy as the overwhelmingly central item setting both options and criteria for design in nature. Indeed, when I tried to create a conceptual framework for teaching biology to college students, I ended up putting energy distinctly second to information. Where energy rules, one can find some analog of voltage potential. But in nature, who eats whom boils down to the design and operation of one’s particular teeth and other equipment. I once set up an electrical analog of an ecosystem, but it gave an unreasonable picture until I added ad hoc diodes to keep the trees from eating the caterpillars at night and other such misbehavior. (Steve Vogel, Duke University, 2007)
In materials processing, Nature replaces the massive use of energy (for example high temperatures or harsh chemical reactions) with the use of information (which equates with structure at all levels, molecule to ecosystem). Indeed, most of the exceptional functionality of biological materials is due to their complex structure, driven by their chemical composition and morphology derived from DNA. It is here that the most important aspect of biomimetics emerges, and it has the power to redesign engineering.
(Received May 6 2008)
(Accepted July 17 2008)