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Mother Nature And why technology can learn a thing or two

Read more Last updated: August 2018
In collection Tech
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The forces of Mother Nature are around us for all to see, from dramatic volcano eruptions and tidal waves to the every-day wonders like dappled sunlight or birdsong. The best example of Mother Nature’s magic though is the human body which has always and continues to inspire technological developments around the world. We take a closer look.

Our bodies are amazing!

The human body is nature’s masterpiece. So wonderful in fact that artists have immortalized it in paintings and sculptures for centuries. In his most famous anatomical drawing “Vitruvian Man”, Leonardo di Vinci made clear his belief that the “workings of the human body were an analogy for the workings of the universe”.

Take our eyes for example. Our eyes are to see and to be seen. They not only take in 80% of the information we are presented with, but provide others with a glimpse into our inner souls and how we are feeling. Eyes are incredibly complex instruments: each eye is composed of more than two million working parts and are the second most complex human organ after the brain. Eyes are so complex that medical science still has not found a way to transplant them. More than 1 million nerve fibers connect each eye to the brain and currently surgeons have no way of reconstructing those connections.

The human ear is also a wonder of natural creation. It processes sound waves for our brain to interpret, sound waves as low as 20 Hz, and as high as 20,000 Hz. And we never stop hearing, even in our sleep! Our ears are designed to drown out ambient noise so that we can rest, but remains active enough to wake us up in an emergency situation. The ear also helps us to maintain our balance, by equalizing air pressure in the middle ear with air pressure in the atmosphere.

Inspiring technology

While body confidence particularly among women tends to be low, our bodies are amazing and inspire technological innovations every day! In 1934 Englishman Percy Shaw was looking for a sustainable way to light busy roads. His solution was a small reflector built into the road but, with thousands of cars passing over them each day, he needed to ensure they remained clean. The human eye offered inspiration. Just as a human eye blinks to remove any dirt, so Percy Shaw developed a rubber eye lid covering the reflector. Each time a car passed over it, the weight of the car forced its rubber lid to blink, thus cleaning the small reflector. In 2006 the Catseye was voted one of Britain’s top 10 design icons and is now used to light up roads all over the world.

Prosthetic limbs can nowadays do almost exactly what normal human limbs can do, and have indeed taken their inspiration from human limbs. Scientists have found ways for prosthetic hands, for example, to mimic the warmth and softness of a human hand. New developments are happening all the time such as the inclusion of smart wires in hands to mimic muscle fibres, and connections from the prosthesis to the human nervous system which allow an amputee to touch and feel an object.

Leaf reminding of a cochlea
© Getty Images

The ear has also inspired technological developments. In 2009 MIT scientists announced they had created a tiny antenna capable of receiving any radio signal (as opposed to TV, cellphones and GPS which all use different waves to send and receive information), based on the human ear. The unique architecture of the human ear allows it to detect a wide range of sounds, with tiny hairs, called cilia, of different sizes helping the ear to separate out each frequency and transmit that information to the brain."The human ear is a very good spectrum analyzer," said Rahul Sarpekhkar, coauthor of the paper. "We copied some of the tricks the ear does, and mapped those onto electronics".

MED-EL founders Ingeborg and Erwin Hochmair did exactly this in the 1970s when they mimicked the human hearing process in the development of hearing implant technology. In the case of cochlear implants, an externally worn audio processor detects environmental sounds and digitally converts them into electrical signals that are transmitted to the implant. The implant itself, with its electrode that is inserted into the cochlea, converts these signals into impulses which the brain processes as hearing.

People sitting near a lake

You’ve got it, look after it!

Our body is a gift from Mother Nature and it is contingent upon all of us to look after it. This means going for regular check-ups at the doctors and hearing specialists and engaging in preventative activity such as regular sport, fitness and eating healthily which will keep us healthier for longer as we enter old age. Standard every-day measures we take to look after our bodies – such as wearing sunscreen and getting a good night’s sleep – count towards this too.

Many people forget that looking after our minds is equally as important as looking after our bodies. Making time for friends and family and for our own self-improvement keeps us happy and positive about the future and satisfied with our lives.

Mother Nature did not just create our bodies but our environment too. Regularly enjoying and listening to the beauty of our surroundings is not only good for our health, but it motivates us to ensure our environment is preserved for future generations: through activities such as cutting down our carbon footprint, limiting our use of plastics and consuming sustainably.

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