New SAT Reading Practice Test 48: Biomimicry Passage

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Biomimicry Passage

In 1948, Swiss chemist George de Mestral was
impressed with the clinging power of burrs snagged
in his dog's fur and on his pant legs after he returned
from a hike. While examining the burrs under a
05microscope, he observed many hundreds of small
fibers that grabbed like hooks. He experimented
with replicas of the burrs and eventually invented
Velcro,® a synthetic clinging fabric that was first
marketed as "the zipperless zipper." In the 1960s,
10NASA used de Mestral's invention on space suits,
and now, of course, we see it everywhere.
You might say that de Mestral was the father of
biomimicry, an increasingly essential field that stud-
ies nature, looking for efficiencies in materials and
15systems, and asks the question "How can our homes,
our electronics, and our cities work better?" As one
biomimetics company puts it: "Nature is the largest
laboratory that ever existed and ever will."
Architecture is one field that is constantly
20exploring new ways to incorporate biomimicry.
Architects have studied everything from beehives to
beaver dams to learn how to best use materials,
geometry, and physics in buildings. Termite mounds,
for example, very efficiently regulate temperature,
25humidity, and airflow, so architects in Zimbabwe are
working to apply what they've learned from termite
mounds to human-made structures.
Says Michael Pawlyn, author of Biomimicry in
Architecture, "If you look beyond the nice shapes
30in nature and understand the principles behind
them, you can find some adaptations that can lead
to new, innovative solutions that are radically more
resource-efficient. It's the direction we need to take
in the coming decades."
35Designers in various professional fields are draw-
ing on biomimicry; for example, in optics, scientists
have examined the surface of insect eyes in hopes of
reducing glare on handheld device screens. Engi-
neers in the field of robotics worked to replicate the
40property found in a gecko's feet that allows adhesion
to smooth surfaces.
Sometimes what scientists learn from nature isn't
more advanced, but simpler. The abalone shrimp, for
example, makes its shell out of calcium carbonate,
45the same material as soft chalk. It's not a rare or
complex substance, but the unique arrangement of
the material in the abalone's shell makes it extremely
tough. The walls of the shell contain microscopic
pieces of calcium carbonate stacked like bricks,
50which are bound together using proteins just as
concrete mortar is used. The result is a shell three
thousand times harder than chalk and as tough as
Kevlar® (the material used in bullet-proof vests).
Often it is necessary to look at the nanoscale
55structures of a living material's exceptional properties
in order to re-create it synthetically. Andrew Parker,
an evolutionary biologist, looked at the skin of the
thorny devil (a type of lizard) under a scanning elec-
tron microscope, in search of the features that let the
60animal channel water from its back to its mouth.
Examples like this from the animal world abound.
Scientists have learned that colorful birds don't
always have pigment in their wings but are some-
times completely brown; it's the layers of keratin
65in their wings that produce color. Different colors,
which have varying wavelengths, reflect differently
through keratin. The discovery of this phenomenon
can be put to use in creating paints and cosmetics
that won't fade or chip. At the same time, paint for
70outdoor surfaces can be made tougher by copying
the structures found in antler bone. Hearing aids
are being designed to capture sound as well as the
ears of the Ormia fly do. And why can't we have a
self-healing material like our own skin? Researchers
75at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois
are creating just that; they call it an "autonomic
materials system." A raptor's feathers, a whale's fluke,
a mosquito's proboscis—all have functional features
we can learn from.
80The driving force behind these innovations, aside
from improved performance, is often improved
energy efficiency. In a world where nonrenew-
able energy resources are dwindling and carbon
emissions threaten the planet's health, efficiency has
85never been more important. Pawlyn agrees: "For
me, biomimicry is one of the best sources of inno-
vation to get to a world of zero waste because those
are the rules under which biological life has had to
90Biomimicry is a radical field and one whose prac-
titioners need to be radically optimistic, as Pawlyn
is when he says, "We could use natural products
such as cellulose, or even harvest carbon from the
atmosphere to create bio-rock."

Tiny florets in a sunflower's center are arranged in an interlocking spiral, which inspired engineers in the design of this solar power plant. Mirrors positioned at the same angle as the florets bounce light toward the power plant's central tower.

Adapted from David Ferris, "Innovate: Solar Designs from Nature." © 2014 by Sierra Club.

1. The central idea of the passage is primarily concerned with

  • A. the field of biomimicry, the study of materials and systems found in nature and replicated in ways that benefit people.
  • B. the work of George de Mestral, the Swiss chemist who invented Velcro? after observing burrs under a microscope.
  • C. the ways in which architects use termite mounds as models for human-made structures in Zimbabwe.
  • D. how scientists are seeking ways to improve energy efficiency as nonrenewable energy sources decline.

2. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 1-6 ("In 1948…hooks")
  • B. Lines 12-18 ("You might say…ever will'")
  • C. Lines 23-27 ("Termite mounds…structures")
  • D. Lines 80-85 ("The driving…more important")

3. The author includes a quote in paragraph 4 in order to

  • A. explain why architects are looking to biomimicry for solutions in architecture.
  • B. provide an argument for more scientists to study biomimicry.
  • C. give an explanation as to why someone might choose a career in architecture.
  • D. provide a counterargument to the author's central claim.

4. Based on the information in paragraph 6, how does the shell of an abalone shrimp compare with soft chalk?

  • A. The essential building blocks are arranged in a similar manner, but the material that makes up the shell of an abalone shrimp is harder.
  • B. Both are made from the same essential building blocks, but the shell of the abalone shrimp is much harder because of the manner in which the materials are arranged.
  • C. The essential building blocks of both are the same, but the abalone shrimp shell is harder because the soft chalk lacks a protein binding the materials together.
  • D. They are made from different essential building blocks, but they have a similar hardness because the materials are arranged in a similar manner.

5. In paragraph 9, what is the most likely reason that the author included the quote from Pawlyn about efficiency?

  • A. To convince readers that Pawlyn is an expert in his field
  • B. To prove that great strides are being made in creating products that do not generate waste
  • C. To demonstrate the limits of what biomimicry can achieve
  • D. To support the statement that energy efficiency "has never been more important"

6. In line 30, "principles" most nearly means

  • A. sources.
  • B. attitudes.
  • C. standards.
  • D. theories.

7. It can be reasonably inferred from the passage that

  • A. more scientists will utilize solutions developed through biomimicry in the future.
  • B. the field of biomimicry will eventually decline as more nonrenewable resources are discovered.
  • C. scientists will leave the fields they are currently working in and begin research in biomimicry.
  • D. doctors will create a self-healing skin called an "autonomic materials system" using methods based in biomimicry.

8. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 35-38 ("Designers…screens")
  • B. Lines 54-56 ("Often it is…synthetically")
  • C. Lines 61-79 ("Examples like…learn from")
  • D. Lines 89-94 ("Biomimicry…bio-rock")

9. As used in line 90, "radical" most nearly means

  • A. pervasive.
  • B. drastic.
  • C. essential.
  • D. revolutionary.

10. The graphic and caption that accompany this passage help illustrate how biomimicry can be used to

  • A. make a solar plant more attractive.
  • B. decrease waste generated by energy sources.
  • C. improve the efficiency of existing models.
  • D. replicate a pattern common in nature.