Monkey see, monkey do; Green Drinks meets biomimicry

  Cool winter night, glühwein and soup to warm the body and all set out to welcome faces, both old and new.  The 18th of June marked another successful Green Drinks event at the Food and Trees for Africa Khaya in Wendywood. A meeting where innovative ideas and talks in the realm of sustainable (green)…


Cool winter night, glühwein and soup to warm the body and all set out to welcome faces, both old and new.  The 18th of June marked another successful Green Drinks event at the Food and Trees for Africa Khaya in Wendywood. A meeting where innovative ideas and talks in the realm of sustainable (green) living and development are spread to people affiliated to Food and Trees and other organizations by open invitation.

This Green Drinks event was the second held at Food and Trees for Africa, as part of the African Climate Reality Project. Biomimicry was the focus of the evening, featuring guest speaker Claire Janisch, a certified Biomimicry professional from BiomimicrySA, which is a regional network of biomimicry aimed at promoting the study and imitation of the natural world’s structures, cycles and processes within our human environment. Mimicry is common in the natural world; the stick insect mimics twigs in order to blend into its environment. Many predatory plants like the Venus Fly Trap mimic the sweet smelling flower structures that are favoured by insects so as to lure in their prey, and bats are the only mammals to successfully mimic the ability of true flight. The natural world provides many successful cases of mimicry as a result of evolutionary pathways and the ability of many organisms to adapt to their environment by simply “copying” another successful organism. Being able to copy any organism is the advantage that the natural world has been able to sustain within many of its organisms. The saying “monkey see, monkey do” has real substance.

Climate and environmental change remains a challenge that humans and the rest of earth’s biosphere faces. The anthropogenic carbon footprint is the largest it has ever been and it is clear that we are nearing the tipping point towards an environmental catastrophe. The COP21 meeting set to be held later this year is one of many ways large governments and organizations seek to reduce and mitigate the effects of extreme climate change. But new regulations and greenhouse legislations cannot sustain the green movement alone. Economies need to move towards an eco-friendly path in order to sustain itself and conserve the integrity of the natural world upon which it depends so heavily. Humans working within the economy are responsible for ensuring this happens. Biomimicry brings together biology and engineering in a harmonious marriage to further advance the human species on this planet whilst keeping it as pristine as we possibly can.

Nature has provided many structures and processes that humans have been able to mimic in our architecture, industry and everyday lives. Solar panels emulate leaves as flat structures capturing radiant energy from the sun in order to promote chemical processes. While leaves use this energy to synthesise carbohydrates, the solar panel converts this energy into electrical currents. Leaves, however, take this ability of capturing solar energy to a higher level by using the whole photosynthetic process as a way to allow for tissue growth, regeneration and repair. Claire highlighted this as a possible attribute that humans should be seeking to reduce negative anthropogenic effects that are associated with the sourcing of the raw material and subsequent discarding of solar panels. Energy capturing pigment that imitates the plant pigment chlorophyll is on the frontline for electricity creation. This energy producing pigment has been proposed for infusion in glass and fabric to create “photosynthetic textiles”. This will open up the human built environment as a platform for sustainable energy production. Claire mentioned various projects like the ability to treat water by whirlpool generation by small perfectly symmetrical shell-like turbines and by synthesising nacre similar to that seen in abalone shells as a replacement for regular ceramic. She revealed her chemical engineering background has various flaws in its practice as it tends to tunnel vision numerous tasks that are set before it. Focus is only on the quick production of what has been tasked and ignores any environmental impacts, residual and possible innovative ways that can produce the same product or service. Biomimicry sets to change the way in which we source ideas for new technologies, making them more sustainable, efficient and safe.

The flexibility, durability and strength of spider silk, the perfect aerodynamic structure of a bird’s feathers and many other natural intelligent designs can be set forth to solve many great problems such as protective wear production, aviation, water treatment, agriculture, cleaning the environment, and the list continues. Biomimicry has rightfully garnered much interest and curiosity from the audience at the Green Drinks event as well as many people who have been lucky to attain knowledge about or work within organizations such as BiomimicrySA. A new space demanding our attention has been created. Keep your eyes peeled for apparel that has the ability to charge your cellphone through contact with the sun or exposure to sound vibration energies. Welcome to biomimicry.

By Kgothatso Skosana



KG and Thapelo at June Green drinks-min (4)

ACRP volunteers Kgothatso and Thapelo

Kgothatso Skosana is a Pretoria born 3rd year Bsc student at Wits university who is passionate about sustainability, earth conservation sciences, human psychology, television and his favourite vegetable, cheese.

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