Archive for the ‘biomimicry’ Category

Nature’s skyscrapers: X-ray imaging reveals the secrets of termite mounds

April 4th, 2019
Nature’s skyscrapers: X-ray imaging reveals the secrets of termite mounds

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Visit the African savannas in Zimbabwe or Namibia, and you might notice large, towering termite mounds dotted about the landscape—nature's skyscrapers, if you will. And nature is quite the engineer: those mounds are self-cooling, self-ventilating, and self-draining. New 3D X-ray images have revealed that one of the secrets to this impressive efficiency is a vast network of micropores in the walls of the mounds, according to a recent paper in Science Advances.

Termite mounds, with their ingenious mechanisms for climate control, have been providing inspiration for architectural design for at least the last 20 years, most notably when Zimbabwean architect Mick Pearce based his design for the Eastgate Center in his nation's capital of Harare on the termite mounds he observed in the region. He wanted to move away from the big glass block designs previously favored for office buildings and wanted his design to be heated and cooled almost entirely by natural means. The Eastgate Center is the country's largest commercial and shopping complex, and yet it uses less than 10 percent of the energy consumed by a conventional building of its size, because there is no central air conditioning and only a minimal heating system.

The termite mounds are basically fungus farms, since fungus is the termites' primary food source. Conditions have to be just right in order for fungus to flourish. So the termites must maintain a constant temperature of 87°F in an environment where the outdoor temperatures range from 35°F at night to 104°F during the day. Swiss entomologist Martin Lüscher suggested that the termite mounds worked a bit like air conditioners, facilitating a continuous exchange of air. Hot air in the nest below rises up while cooler air diffuses down, aided by the height of the mounts. The termites construct tunnels that act a bit like heating and cooling vents, which can be opened and closed as needed over the course of the day.

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Posted in air flow, architecture, biomimicry, fluid dynamics, science, termites, thermal regulation | Comments (0)

Science says your cat’s tongue is ideally suited for grooming fur

December 28th, 2018

That sandpaper-like texture of your cat's tiny pink tongue is what makes it ideal for grooming fur. The secret: hundreds of hollow, rigid spines lining the surface of the tongue, according to a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This is just the latest bit of colorful research from David Hu, who runs a biolocomotion laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology studying how various creatures move. He is perhaps best known for his work with fire ants, but his lab also studies water striders, snakes, various climbing insects, mosquitos, and, um, animal bodily functions like urine. (One of his students, Patricia Yang, recently made headlines with her insights into why wombats produce cubed poo.)

It was another of Hu's graduate students, Alexis Noel, who came up with the idea for the cat tongue experiments. She was watching her cat try to "groom" a fluffy microfiber blanket one night and noticed its tongue kept getting snagged in the fibers. She found very little prior research on the biomechanics of cat grooming, and concluded the topic was ripe for experimentation.

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Posted in biolocomotion, biomimicry, biophysics, cat science, Physics, science | Comments (0)

New software will let artists control how light interacts with objects

November 30th, 2018
Clouds contain billions of individual water droplets that are difficult to plot in computer graphics for movie scenes.

Enlarge / Clouds contain billions of individual water droplets that are difficult to plot in computer graphics for movie scenes. (credit: Dartmouth Visual Computing Lab)

Animators will now be able to precisely control how microscopic particles interact with light in their renderings of objects, thanks to a research collaboration between computer scientists at Dartmouth University and staff scientists at Pixar and Disney. The team will describe this new work next week at the SIGGRAPH Asia event in Tokyo, Japan; a paper is also forthcoming in the journal Transactions on Graphics.

The breakthrough will allow animation artists more creative leeway when designing the look of various objects by giving them the ability to customize the way light travels through them. It should have the biggest impact on renderings of so-called "volumetric materials"—clouds, fog, mist, skin, or marble statues, for instance. (Marble is a material that reflects some light off the surface but allows some to pass through, giving it a translucent appearance.)

"There is a whole range of dramatically different appearances that artists just couldn't explore until now," said Dartmouth co-author Wojciech Jarosz. "Previously, artists basically had one control that could affect the appearance of a cloud. Now it's possible to explore a vastly richer palette of possibilities, a change that is as dynamic as the transition from black-and-white images to color."

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Posted in biomimicry, Computer science, Gaming & Culture, mathematical modeling, moviemaking, Physics, science, siggraph | Comments (0)