The gecko's foot. Bio-inspiration - engineering new materials and devices from nature

The gecko’s foot. Bio-inspiration - engineering new materials and devices from nature 
Peter Forbes 
London, UK: Fourth Estate | 2005 | 272pp | ?20 (HB) | ISBN 0007179901 
Reviewed by John Wilson

Bioinspiration describes the process whereby scientists, architects and engineers seek to apply nature’s nanotechnology to help solve engineering problems

Many know how George de Mestral invented Velcro after observing how spiny cocklebur fruits stuck to his dog’s fur. 


Source: © iStockphotos

The bristles on geckos’ feet have inspired the design of new adhesives

This absorbing book provides many other examples of how man has sought to match the ’wet’ self-assembly techniques that nature has perfected over millions of years of evolution. These include self-cleaning surfaces inspired by the leaves of the lotus flower; photonic crystals inspired by the sea creature Aphrodite and butterfly wings; and adhesives inspired by the bristles on geckos’ feet.  

Many other wonders of nature are inspiring today’s material scientists and nanotechnologists. These include brittlestar lenses, spider silk, abalone nacre (mother of pearl) and bacteriophages. 

Forbes takes a look at the Scottish zoologist and classical scholar D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, widely regarded as the pioneer of bioinspiration, with his classic book On growth and form(1917). He traces how his ideas developed in the 20th century.  

Forbes looks to a future in which many new products will be inspired by a deeper understanding of how nature has solved engineering problems with apparent simplicity and economy of energy.

This book should be read by anyone interested in the latest trends in science and engineering. It describes the cutting-edge work of many leading scientists but the writing style means that at no point should the general reader find himself/herself struggling to understand the basic concepts. For those wishing to explore further, many journal references and weblinks are provided in a separate notes section. 

Since the book was published, scientists from the University of Twente in the Netherlands have recreated one of nature’s most sensitive sound detectors - the tiny hairs found on body parts of crickets. This could lead to a new generation of cochlear implants for people with severe hearing problems. The inspiration goes on.