Biomimicry, Biomaterials, Biomimetics

Our armadillo demonstrates the use of keratin, the wonder protein.

On Wednesday, September 28, the San Diego Zoo hosted the second in our series of fall Biomimicry Receptions. This special evening, sponsored by the City of Murrieta, welcomed David Kisailus, Ph.D., and several of his students from the University of California, Riverside, who work on biomaterials and biomimetics. Guests were treated to an after-hours walk through the Zoo to the Treetops meeting room, where wine and appetizers were served while guests mingled with each other and got to know the students. The students gave us some insight into their research through posters and biological artifacts from the animals they work with, such as abalones and marine snails.

Photo credit: Shadow Van Houten

The theme of this evening’s animal presentation was keratin, the wonder protein used to make everything from armadillo scales to rhino horns to human hair. Even though our armadillo ambassador was a bit shy that night and stayed rolled up in a ball, he still had a lot to tell us about the inspiring adaptations found in nature.

Next, City of Murrieta Councilmember Rick Gibbs shared with us all the benefits Murrieta has to offer. All over California there are designated Innovation Hubs or iHubs. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spearheaded this initiative in March 2010, and in August 2011 the San Diego iHub was expanded to include Temecula, Murrieta, and part of Riverside. We were excited to have this opportunity to visit with Murrieta and spread the word of biomimicry throughout the range of the Innovation Hub.

Photo credit: Shadow Van Houten

The keynote speaker of the evening, Dr. Kisailus, then shared with guests his exciting research in biomimetics. In his lab at UC Riverside they research the question, “What can biology teach us about the synthesis of new materials?” Current engineering processes tend toward the use of unnaturally high temperatures and environmentally unfriendly methods. Dr. Kisailus is trying to amend these practices by studying the processes that occur in nature. Structures are created at ambient temperatures with available materials and biodegrade at the end of their lifetime. Perhaps even more amazing is that these structures often perform better than our human-engineered products. Abalone shells, enamel, and chiton teeth are among the most abrasion-resistant materials, ranking significantly higher than most human-made metal alloys.

Don’t miss the final reception of the series! We are changing up the location and on Thursday, October 27, we’ll be at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Conservation Research, on the grounds of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. This LEED-certified building houses the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, the largest zoo-based research effort in the world. This reception will feature Richard Lieber, Ph.D., of University of California, San Diego, who will be speaking to his experience linking animal biomechanics to orthopedic surgery. Please visit our Biomimicry website for more information and to register.

Dena Emmerson is a biomimicry research assistant at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, The Da Vinci Index.

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