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Learning from Nature: Biomimetic Principles in Constraction

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Proteins hold a great promise for the creation of architectures at the molecular or nanoscale levels; while the ultimate aim is to use proteins for controlled binding and assembly onto inorganics. The genetically engineered proteins for inorganics represent a new class of biological molecules that are combinatorially selected to bind to specific inorganic surfaces. It is worth mentioning that silane and thiol linkages are embraced to be the key molecular linkers for either oxid or silica as well as noble metal surfaces that have, therefore, far comprised the field of self-assembled molecules up until now.

Inorganic materials can be assembled at the nanoscale by proteins that have been genetically engineered to bind to the selected materials surfaces. The combinatorial genetic approach is a general one, which should be applicable to numerous surfaces. The modularity of binding motifs should allow a chemical or genetic fusion of peptide segments distinguishing two different materials. The heterobifunctional molecules could be exploited to stick various materials to one another. This may also allow the assembly of hybrid and nanocomposite materials. These results could lead to new ways in biomimetics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, as well as tissue and crystal engineering, such as in the shape modification, formation, and assembly of materials, and the development of surface-specific protein coatings.

Both nanostructured inorganics and functional molecules are becoming fundamental building blocks for the future functional materials, such as nanoelectronics, nanophotonics, and nanomagnetics. Before nanoscience could be implemented into practical and working systems, there would be numerous challenges that must be faced. Some of these challenges include a molecular and nanoscale ordering as well as a scale-up into larger architectures. A nanotechnological system, for example, could require several components made up of materials of different physical and chemical characteristics. These different materials have to be connected and assembled without an external manipulation. These components may include two or more inorganic nanoparticles, several functional molecules, and nanopatterned multimaterial substrates, that are all assembled through the specific interaction with the appropriate molecules.

Although significant advances have been made in developing protocols for surface- binding polypeptides, many questions need to be answered before their robust design and practical applications are effectively realized. These questions include:

1. What are the physical and chemical bases for the recognition of inorganic surfaces by the genetically engineered polypeptides?

2. What are the long-range assembly characteristics, kinetics, and stability of the binding?

3. What are the molecular mechanisms of engineered polypeptide binding (noble) metals compared to those onnonmetals?

4. How do surface characteristics affect binding?

5. Based on the insights achieved, can we develop a 'road map' in order to use GEPIs as molecular linkers and to open new avenues in the self-assembled molecular systems in nanotechnology grounded on biology?

Some of these questions can be answered using the existing nanotechnological and molecular biological tools, and some require an adaptation of biology methodologies into molecular biomimetics. Considering the present rapid developments in the inorganic-binding polypeptide selection protocols, the increased variety of materials utilized as substrates and novel modeling adaptations, it is expected that many of the above questions will find answers in the near future with the subsequent significant impact on the broad multidisciplinary fields and with potentially wide-ranging nanotechnology as well as nanomedicine applications.

Naturally Innovative

The construction industry as well as its consumers are constanly challenged to obtain a better performance of the built assets and cost savings. Biomimetics has showed its ability to assist with the following issues. Biomimetic concepts as well as products are capable of assisting the construction industry and its consumers with requests for:

a) Reduced embodied energy (CO2) in the construction products;

b) Better resource efficiency and the use of reduced materials use, thus leading to the lower costs;

c) Reduced weight as well as complexity (the response to manual handling regulations, lighter structures, etc.);

d) Novel designs;

e) Reduced maintenance intervals, burdens, and costs.

Biomimetics is an innovative approach that aims to develop products and designs or to solve most of human problems by obtaining unique inspiration from the surrounding nature. The reflective road studs inspired by biomeimetics can be represented as one of the well-known construction-based examples. Their creator is said to get inspiration, while observing the light that bounces from a cat's eyes at the roadside. Velcro® is another example inspired by watching  how plant burrs stickle to the fur of a cat or dog. A quite different example grounded on the interaction of ant colonies is the application of computer tools. This helps to optimise the deliveries routs from food, fuel, and liquefied gas to consumers.

It is worth mentioning that such companies as Gillette and Mercedes Benz are rather actively using key concepts of biomimetics in order to create noval products or to introduce outstanding vehicles. 

Biomimetics can be treated as a type of thinking that abstracts various processes from the surrounding nature, identifies novel business opportunities for the following processes, and applies them in life. Of cource, it can sound very simple, but the intellectual skip from a concept to the real natural analogue or vice-versa is not rather trivial. It shoud be stressed that biomimetics does not aim to copy nature but aims to get knowledge from it. Nowadays, biomimetics is being applied to resources and energy efficiency, robotics, artitecture, design, lightweight structures. The UK, the USA, the Netherlands, and Germany are the four leading players in biomimetics innovations and researches. The results of a current mission of the DTI industry biomimetics in Europe have shown that a lot of the United Kingdom industry is not sure of its potential for the novel field, as biomimetics; while in Germany, it is well-developed due to the well-supported and established network, as BIOKON7.

Biomimetics in Construction

The biomimetic approaches can be used to find novel solutions to problems; while many already well-known and familiar ones are inspired by or rooted from biomimetics. A basic biological principle is to minimize the use of materials in non-critical areas. For products and structures, this can reduce weight and cost.

One example which is often applied to construction adopts the lightweight honeycomb structures; another one aims to introduce the big empty voids or channels into the core of concrete slab elements. The biome structures at the Eden Project, for instance, provide the required structural performance with the minimum of structural frame material by using hexagonal cell structures. The cells in the wasps nests and the bees honeycombs are created in accordance to a similar pattern. It is claimed that the examples given in Table 1 are all genuinely inspired by biomimetics.

Table 1

Project type

Commercial examples of biomimeticas

Biological analogue


Self-cleaning facade paints

Lotus leaf structure

Buildings – commercial and industrial

Glasses architectural structures (such as Stuttgart Airport) and self-cleaning facade paints

Branching treelike and lotus leaf structures


Delivery logistics software

Interactions within ant colonies

Roads, airports pavements, car-parks, etc.


Optical reflectivity of cats' eyes

Civil Engineering structures (tunnels, bridges, etc.)

Tensairity beams

Plant cell wall structures


Although most industrial interest in biomimetics is found in the aerospace, textiles, computing, artificial intelligence and sensor sectors – with a limited track record in

construction (mainly in materials and design) – there have been some commercially exploited construction sector examples that include:

  • Self-cleaning paints (e.g. Lotusan®), glasses, and concretes;
  • Honeycomb structures (e.g. the Eden Project biomes, and lightweight stone veneer cladding products);
  • Interesting architectural approaches (e.g. branching tree-like roof supports at Stuttgart Airport);
  • Passive ventilation in the whole systems (e.g. the Eastgate building in Harare, that uses tha abovementioned principles based on those of termite mounds);
  • Tensairity® beams represent a system of inflexible pneumatic beams that are inspired by the way in which opposing tensile and compressive forces that are capable of supporting the stems of all existing plants. The aforementioned systems have been applied to bridges, canopies, deployable and roof structures for commercial as well as other buildings. Some given examples are considered self-healing when they are punctured.

Biomimetics can suggest new ways for the reduction of maintenance and its intervals (for instance, through self-cleaning properties) and for the more efficient use of materials (for instance, through lightweight cladding products). Biomimetics concepts and approaches have the capability to supple construction with tools to apply to solving some inventive problems (‘thinking outside the box’).

Biomimetics as a Route to Developing New Construction Products

There are three processes for integrating biomimetics into the product development and commercialization of construction products:

  • Entrepreneurial;

It is derived from an individual’s lateral thinking (e.g. a plant burr led an entrepreneur to develop Velcro®).

  • Research-led (bottom up);

The main steps are to analyze and to embrace a biological principle, to abstract a biological model, to identify an industry challenge, and then to develop a product through prototyping and testing (e.g. Lotusan paint was derived from the detailed study of the lotus leaf structure). The desired features are constructed from fundamental building blocks (e.g. self-assembly, sol-gel methods, layer-by-layer deposition), without the need for patterning.

  • Industry-led (top down).

This approach is to formulate a technical problem, to seek analogies from the nature (‘how would the nature do it?’), to abstract a biological model, and to develop a product through prototyping and testing (e.g. strong, light structures based on hexagonal cells). A material is produced in bulk only and then shaped into a completed part by means of a diversity of processes (e.g. molding, casting, forging, rolling, machining, extruding, and etching of minute features).

In fact, all commercially used biomimetic innovations are ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down.’ This is an ineffective way of introducing innovations to the market. The key difficulties in using biomimetics originate from a lack of awareness of the biomimetics industry. Nowadays, biomimetics is not an approach that many engineers would normally consider. The complexity of mapping the principles onto engineering problems can also be a key factor.

It is clear from the findings of the recent biomimetics mission (2007) that:

i. Biomimetic products can generate a significant business (e.g. the £7 million a year market for Lotusan® paint);

ii. Biomimetic products developed to solve specific industry problems (e.g. the need for a dry adhesive to join surfaces) appear to be easier to market than a particular technology without an obvious end use.

Fabrication of Biomimetic Material

In the emerging field of biomimetics, the ever-growing knowledge base of biology is brought together with the rapidly developing ability to measure and manipulate properties at very small length scales. As a result, over the past few years, several methodologies have been developed to facilitate the formation of biomimetic patterns on substrates, with lateral dimensions ranging from hundreds of nanometers to several microns.

Wetting Applications

When the Lotus-Effect ® was first trademarked, the intense interest was drawn towards its commercial exploitation for the fabrication of self-cleaning products for everyday life applications. Clearly, the fabricated surfaces that would remain dry and clean, in the same way as the lotus leaf, could be used for products ranging from the self-cleaning coatings, paints, roof tiles, and water-repellent textiles to the applications relevant to anti-bouncing additives for pesticides. Many of these ideas have already been commercialized. The examples include façade paints, coatings for the reduction of biodeterioration, coatings for self-cleaning glasses, sprays for generating self-cleaning films, nanoparticle powders for multipurpose applications as well as containers that can be emptied without residues.

Self-healing Composite

It is used to create the self-healing composite. A catalyst is put into a fine powder and mixed into an epoxy resin. Then, a liquid healing agent is encapsulated in a polymeric shell and mixed into the resin. When cracks occur, the capsules also crack, ‘spilling’ the chemically-active liquid which is drawn to the cracks. When the catalyst comes into contact with the liquid, it triggers a reaction and bonds the cracks closed.


MuscleSheet, created by Biomimetic Products, is a soft, electroactive composite material that can be mechanically bent by applying low-voltage charges. How much it bends depends on the frequency of the applied voltage and the thickness of the sheet. Though it is ionic, MuscleSheet needs to be wet in order to work. Not coincidentally, it is applied to propulsion fins surfaces and underwater vehicles.

Light-sensing Brittlestars

They are paid lot of attention to as they make an astonishingly effective calcite crystal which acts as optical micro-lens as well as armor. Their skeleton acts as a giant compound eye, composed of thousands of perfect microlenses.

Adhesion Applications

Adhesion Applications engineered adhesive nanostructures, inspired by biological systems such as the gecko foot and mussel attachments, are today under consideration as the next generation adhesives. The ability to achieve dry adhesion could be implemented in many applications, ranging from everyday consumer objects, such as tapes, fasteners, and toys, to microelectronic and space applications, and even wall-climbing robots. Geckel nanoadhesives, that can adhere effectively and reversibly to surfaces under water, may be used in the design of wet, temporary adhesives for the industrial, military and medical fields.

Optical Applications

Bioinspired surfaces with a structural color may find application in the fields of nanomaterials and optical devices, or they may even serve as a paradigm for the next generation of decorative materials. It is rather interesting to mention the fact that the range of refractive indices available in the artificial structures is wider than that found in the natural surfaces. Thus, it has created interest in extending the use of these to more diverse fields such as paints, printing, cosmetics, and clothing.

Although antireflection coatings are commonly used to suppress the reflection of light from the surfaces of optical components, they also reduce the essential transmission of light that, for some applications, is of the major technological importance. For instance, the fabrication of highly light-transmissive antireflective optical materials could be applied to projection optics, display panels, and heat-generating laser.

The Goals of the Research

The research on biomimetic materials and transport systems has four goals:

1.To embrace the material and transport characteristics of biological tissues ans cells. Since the following systems are rather complex, an embracing is able to arise if a person is going to focus on definite aspects of the following structures.

2. Toconstruct model systemsin order the experimental and theoretical methods of physics and chemistry to be able to be applied to. The coevolution of experiment and theory is a necessary condition to transform vague ideas into useful knowledge.

3. The knowledge obtained from the biomimetic model systems can then be used in order to develop new types of designed materialsthat are biocompatible and to define their physical, chemical or biological characteristics.

4.To apply these biomimetic materials to bioengineering, pharmacology, and medicine.

The next level of complexity consists in supramolecular architectures that incorporate different types of building blocks and / or that contain different types of supramolecular assemblies.


The built environment is increasingly held accountable for the global environmental and social problems with the vast proportions of waste materials, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the habitats that humans have created for themselves (Mazria, 2003; Doughty & Hammond, 2004). It becomes pretty clear that a shift must be made into how the built environment is created and maintained. The changing life and the constant interactions between various living organisms that form ecosystems are a rather excellent example for humans to get knowledge from / on and an fascinating perspective for the future human areas that may be combined with other habitats of various species. By using a framework, as suggested by this paper, it is anticipated that distinctions between the different kinds of biomimicry and their regenerative potential can be more easily made. This discourse tends to be theoretical at present with many concepts related to ecosystem based biomimicry and architectural biomimicry in general, yet it is to be tested in built form, design that mimics how most ecosystems are able to function in a sustainable and even regenerative way. It has the potential to positively transform the environmental performance of the built environment. This may be enhanced if a system based on biomimicry, that mimics how mature ecosystems function, is included in initial design parameters and is used as an evaluation benchmark throughout the design process.

It is most likely that the coming years will belong primarily to the field of bioinspired multifunctional surfaces and topics such as the understanding intelligent biological functions and the development of responsive biomimetic artificial materials are still in their infancy. One major problem to overcome is that intelligent natural structures do not always function in a unique and coordinate way. They try to adapt to local functional requirements. For instance, animals and plants can easily sence the surroundind world as well as respond and intergrate information appropriately. Feedback-control devices are very important characteristics that provide organisms with robustness and flexibility. Despite lacking a nervous system, a plant can grow branches and leaves in the direction of light, roots towards spatially regulate growth or water in order to minimize mechanical stress.

In this respect, the functions of the biological structures can neither be completely embrased nor rightly reproduced, not taking into consideration the aforementioned dynamic feedback. The research on intelligent biomimetic surfaces, combined with the principles of evolution for optimization, should give rise to multifunctional materials surfaces that currently remain beyond the grasp of humankind. No doubt, this is and would be, an excellent example of biologically inspired science.

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