Biomimetic, also known as bionics or biomimicry, is a science that reproduces characteristics of one or more biological systems. The term means “imitation of life”. In the 70s Wilhelm Barthlott, a botanic and bionic professor, discovered that the leaves of the Lotus flower are always clean. They clean themselves. Today this effect is patented and applied practically.
The leaf is covered with a lot of small crystals with a waxed texture that create a ragged and napped surface. The microscopically small knobs are protecting the leaf from water and dirt. The waterdrops roll off the surface and take dust and dirt particles with them.
Scientists imitated the rough microstructure for artificial surfaces. The lotus effect is adopted for house paint as well as for silicone wax that preserves different materials like roof tiles, awnings or honey spoons. It is also used for rain-proofed clothes, impregnation spray and even cravats.
Researchers are currently working on a self cleaning car varnish and windows. It would economize water and time. In 2008 we produced and disposed 12000000 liters of detergent in Europe. But the lotus effect always causes a matt surface – not a bestseller in the car industry – which is one of the reasons that it still doesn’t exist.
A lotus effect surface for the airplane is also thinkable. This would mean no deicing in the winter anymore. But the coated surface is not yet stable enough for the high speed, it would be destroyed immediately.
The Lotus plant is just one of endless natural phenomena inspiring research and development.
By the observation of the flight and the anatomy of birds of prey, bionic scientist discovered an energy saving method for airplanes. The birds spray out single feathers to avoid decelerating air whirls. Inspired by this system, the ends of the airfoils are bended upwards which economizes propellant.
The bird is godfather for the airplane, the penguin for a submarine, the liane for re-growing construction material, the polygonal spire of Munich’s Olympic arena is inspired by a spider’s web and the very strong material mother of pearl may revolutionize the dental technology one day.