The Gecko's Foot: Bio-inspiration: Engineering New Materials from Nature

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A riveting account of the unexpected relationship between nature and scientific design.
"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you." When Frank Lloyd Wright said this, he probably wasn't envisioning self-cleaning surfaces, the photonic crystal, or Velcro. But nature has indeed yielded such inventions for those scientists and engineers who heeded the architect's words.
The cutting-edge science of bio-inspiration gives way to architectural and product designs that mimic intricate mechanisms found in nature. In Peter Forbes's engaging book we discover that the spiny fruits of the cocklebur inspired the hook-and-loop fastener known as Velcro; unfolding leaves, insect wings, and space solar panels share similar origami folding patterns; the self-cleaning leaves of the sacred lotus plant have spawned a new industry of self-cleaning surfaces; and cantilever bridges have much in common with bison spines.
As we continue to study nature, bio-inspiration will transform our lives and force us to look at the world in a new way.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In the new millennium, adept researchers know that science is great, but nature often got there first. Bio-Inspiration, by veteran British science writer Peter Forbes, documents how scientists and engineers are using lessons learned from nature to make significant technological advances. His examples are a storyteller's delight: secrets of self-cleaning glass borrowed from an age-old symbol of purity; microscopic spider technologies that now save lives on aircraft carriers; Japanese mapmakers taught by the folding of leaves.
Publishers Weekly
Most of us see a gecko and think of ads for auto insurance, but this little lizard possesses a remarkable ability to climb walls and scamper across ceilings. Until recently, scientists couldn't figure out these Spider-Man-like powers as they dreamed of potential commercial uses. Now, according to British science writer Forbes, researchers have used the electron scanning microscope to crack the mysteries of many plants and animals-including the gecko-by studying them at the nano level. For example, studying the dirt-repellent surface of the lotus-an age-old symbol of purity in Asia, rising spotless out of muddy water-led to the invention of self-cleaning glass. Attempts to spin spider-quality silk for a wide range of purposes, including snagging jets as they land on aircraft carriers, have been less successful (one group used genetic engineering to try to create the basic elements of spider silk in goats' milk). The folds of origami mirror the natural folding process of leaves, which in turn has led a Japanese designer to create a better map: it always folds up correctly. Readers interested in how invention imitates nature, and vice versa, will find much to savor. 69 illus. (May 29) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Science writer Forbes interviewed researchers worldwide for this book on bio-inspiration, "the new science that seeks to use nature's principles to create things that evolution never achieved." Trained as a chemist, Forbes is also a poet, and he uses poetry here to illustrate scientific principles. Most bio-inspired products require engineering on a nanoscale level (starting at one billionth of a meter-the book was originally published in Britain and thus uses metric scales). Forbes pinpoints the beginning of the drive for nanoscale research with acclaimed physicist Richard Feynman's December 29, 1959, talk in which he suggested there was more room for scientific discovery at the bottom of the scale as opposed to the top. Following an overview of the developments (Feynman's talk, the scanning electron microscope, etc.) that have enabled the development of bio-inspired nanotechnology, Forbes discusses the products that have resulted, ranging from synthetic "spider silk" to lotuslike self-cleaning windows. While Forbes's prose style may at times be a wee bit too lyrical, his explanations of the processes behind bio-inspiration are clear and engaging, with little math to intimidate lay readers. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-Sara Tompson, Univ. of Southern Calif. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393062236
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/29/2006
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Forbes is a translator, science writer, and editor of Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry. He lives in London.

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Table of Contents

1 Something new under the sun 1
2 The great sacred lotus clean up 29
3 Nature's nylon 55
4 Clinging to the ceiling 79
5 The gleam in nature's eye 101
6 The molecular erector set 135
7 Insects can't fly 161
8 Origami for engineers 181
9 The push and pull building system 197
10 Designing the future (naturally) 231
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