Harnessing the Inventions of Nature

Exploring 8 Wonders of Biomimicry and Morphology in Design

Emma Menebroker

10/16/20235 min read

Harnessing the Inventions of Nature

Exploring 8 Wonders of Biomimicry and Morphology in Design

In a world where sustainability has become the guiding star for innovation, we find ourselves turning to the genius of nature to create a brighter future. Biomimicry, an approach to design that mirrors the elegance and efficiency of the natural world, is a powerful testament to human ingenuity! Nature, with its intricate patterns and extraordinary adaptations, has been a constant source of inspiration for designers and engineers throughout history. Biomimicry seeks to emulate and adopt organic marvels like the mesmerizing spirals of a seashell or the intricate network of leaf veins. In this exploration, we will delve into the myriad ways in which design has artfully mirrored the brilliance of the natural world, focusing on the natural surfaces that have been adapted for human needs.

1. Velcro: Nature's Fasteners

The iconic hook-and-loop fastener known as Velcro was invented by Swiss engineer George de Mestral in the 1940s after he was inspired by burrs sticking to his dog's fur during a walk. He realized that these natural fasteners adhered well to hair, a phenomenon we are all familiar with, having your clothing littered with seeds after straying off the footpath. The tiny hooks on one side of Velcro mimic the burrs, while the loops on the other side emulate the fur (1). This ingenious design borrowed from nature has revolutionized the world of fastening systems, whether it be the way we hang pictures on the wall or strap shoes on our feet.

2. Advancing Adhesion: The Mystery of Gecko Feet

With the advancement of microscopes, scientists have been able to better answer the question, ‘How do geckos stick to surfaces?’. Researchers have found that setae, small densely populated hairs on gecko feet, are partially responsible for this unique ability. More recently, researchers also uncovered that Van der Waals forces also play a large part in their adhesion to surfaces. The surface area maximizing setae conform to the shape of the opposing surface allowing the atoms to temporarily exert force onto neighboring atoms with opposing polarity. Adapting this discovery, scientists have been able to design a material that is substantially stronger than traditional adhesive tape, lasts longer, and can adhere in wet conditions.

3. The Elegance of Lotus Effect

The lotus leaf's self-cleaning property has fascinated scientists and designers for years. Its micro-scale roughness and water-repellent wax-covered surface encourage the water to adhere to the dirt particles on the leaf, picking them up as they run off. The superhydrophobic surface of the leaves also makes it a great candidate for improving structure durability, allowing more water to run off as opposed to penetrating and corrupting the integrity of the surface. Surfaces mimicking the lotus effect have been employed in building materials, paints, car windshields, fabrics, and more, reducing the need for harsh cleaning chemicals and promoting sustainability (3).

4. Structural Strength from Spider Silk

The strength and flexibility of spider silk have captivated designers exploring new materials. Incredibly lightweight yet strong, these threads consist of a bundle of fibers that are surrounded by a sheath. The protein molecules of the silk crystalize as the spider’s spinnerets excrete them. Spider silk is both flexible and strong, allowing prey to become caught in the fibers, as opposed to bouncing off it. This quality also makes the material ideal for products such as bulletproof vests and suspension bridges. There has been research on coating spider silk with metal to increase strength and this organic material has been adopted for medical uses, functioning as scaffolding to grow body tissues (4).

5. The Versatility of Sharkskin

The pointed dermal denticles on sharks that compose their outer layer of skin push water along their body, decreasing resistance while swimming. The morphology of their skin also inhibits bacteria from colonizing, improving the organism’s overall health. This quality has allowed the denticle texture to be adopted by companies that make equipment for hospitals, decreasing the transmission of bacteria in high-traffic zones (5). This unique feature has also been used to minimize plane, ship, and car drag and fuel expenditure. Competitive athletes have benefited from this biomimetics discovery through the development of swimsuits inspired by the texture of sharkskin. By mimicking the micro-ridges and scales of a shark's skin, these suits reduce drag in the water and enhance performance. These diverse innovations demonstrate how even the tiniest details in nature can lead to an array of improvements in design.

6. Advancing Wind Turbine Blades

The designers of wind turbines have pulled from an interesting source to inform the issue of stalling. When gusts of wind are exerted from multiple directions onto a blade there is an increased likelihood that the wind turbine will stall and possibly blow up. As a result, designers have had to angle the blade at a lower-than-optimal degree. Research in Humpback Whales has shown that this does not have to be the case. Faced with a similar issue when turning at a sharp angle to catch prey, Humpback Whales have evolved tubercles, or small scalloped bumps, on the edges of their fins that allow them to turn quickly with less drag (7). This unique shape has been adapted to the edges of turbine blades, allowing them to turn faster at a steeper angle, while greatly diminishing the chance they will stall out.

7. Bio-Inspired Water Filtration

The natural desalination mechanisms of mangroves have spurred the development of bio-inspired water-purification systems! Mimicking the function of the leaf, trunk, and root in a mechanical system, scientists have been able to design a desalination method that can be done passively without electricity. Water rushing through the various substrate layers, the system is able to create negative pressure, like what is seen in stems and leaves, while also imitating the desalination process that occurs in the mangrove roots (8). This exciting development has the capacity to make a big impact, providing desalinated water to communities across the globe.

8. Butterfly Wings in Digital Displays

The iridescent colors and intricate patterns found in butterfly wings have influenced the development of reflective and energy-efficient displays for devices including e-readers and smartphones. The nanostructures in butterfly wings reflect light back at the viewer without absorbing any light. By emulating butterfly wings, designers can create vivid displays that have high-resolution images without a screen backlight, consuming less power and potentially lessening eyestrain (9).

The Growing Legacy of Biomimicry

As we embark on a journey towards a more sustainable future, biomimicry stands as a beacon of hope, guiding us toward ingenious solutions that not only benefit humanity but also aid in preserving our natural world. Nature has been the master architect for millions of years, and by taking a leaf from its design book, we are ushering in a new era of innovation, one that harmonizes humans with the wisdom of the natural world. The more we learn from the Earth's exquisite creations, the closer we come to a sustainable and ecologically conscious future, where innovation and conservation walk hand in hand. If you have an idea that you want to see change the world for the better reach out under the ‘Contact Us’ tab.


1. Micro Photonics Inc. “Biomimicry – The Burr and the Invention of Velcro.” Micro Photonics Inc., https://www.microphotonics.com/biomimicry-burr-invention-velcro/. Accessed 17 October 2023.

2. Vox. (2017, November 9). “The world is poorly designed. But copying nature helps [Video].” Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMtXqTmfta0.

3. Nanografi. “Lotus Effect in Nanotechnology.” Nanografi, https://nanografi.com/blog/lotus- effect-in-nanotechnology/. Accessed 17 October 2023.

4. Kang, Soyoung. “Biomimetics: Engineering Spider Silk.” Illumin Magazine https://illumin.usc.edu/biomimetics-engineering-spider-silk/. Accessed 17 October 2023.

5. Seeker. (2013 August 6). “3 Cool Materials That Mimic Shark Skin [Video].” Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHGTZmKWEnU.

6. Li, Jane. “From Shark Skin to Speed.” Illumin Magazine, https://illumin.usc.edu/from-shark-skin-to-speed/. Accessed 17 October 2023.

7. Locke, Charley. “Humpback Whales Solve a Big Problem for Wind Turbines.” Wired, https://www.wired.com/2015/11/whales-wind-turbines/. Accessed 17 October 2023.

8. Weir, William. “Device mimics the mangrove’s water-purifying power.” Yale News,https://news.yale.edu/2020/02/21/device-mimics-mangroves-water-purifying-power. Accessed17 October 2023.

9. Wells, Robert. “Butterfly-inspired nanotech makes natural-looking pictures on digital screens.” Phys Org, https://phys.org/news/2020-06-butterfly-inspired-nanotech-natural-looking-pictures-digital.html. Accessed 17 October 2023.