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In 1948, Swiss chemist George de Mestral wasimpressed with the clinging power of burrs snaggedin his dog's fur and on his pant legs after he returnedfrom a hike. While examining the burrs under a05microscope, he observed many hundreds of smallfibers that grabbed like hooks. He experimentedwith replicas of the burrs and eventually inventedVelcro,® a synthetic clinging fabric that was firstmarketed 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 ofbiomimicry, an increasingly essential field that stud-ies nature, looking for efficiencies in materials and15systems, and asks the question "How can our homes,our electronics, and our cities work better?" As onebiomimetics company puts it: "Nature is the largestlaboratory that ever existed and ever will."Architecture is one field that is constantly20exploring new ways to incorporate biomimicry.Architects have studied everything from beehives tobeaver 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 areworking to apply what they've learned from termitemounds to human-made structures.Says Michael Pawlyn, author of Biomimicry inArchitecture, "If you look beyond the nice shapes30in nature and understand the principles behindthem, you can find some adaptations that can leadto new, innovative solutions that are radically moreresource-efficient. It's the direction we need to takein the coming decades."35Designers in various professional fields are draw-ing on biomimicry; for example, in optics, scientistshave examined the surface of insect eyes in hopes ofreducing glare on handheld device screens. Engi-neers in the field of robotics worked to replicate the40property found in a gecko's feet that allows adhesionto smooth surfaces.Sometimes what scientists learn from nature isn'tmore advanced, but simpler. The abalone shrimp, forexample, makes its shell out of calcium carbonate,45the same material as soft chalk. It's not a rare orcomplex substance, but the unique arrangement ofthe material in the abalone's shell makes it extremelytough. The walls of the shell contain microscopicpieces of calcium carbonate stacked like bricks,50which are bound together using proteins just asconcrete mortar is used. The result is a shell threethousand times harder than chalk and as tough asKevlar® (the material used in bullet-proof vests).Often it is necessary to look at the nanoscale55structures of a living material's exceptional propertiesin order to re-create it synthetically. Andrew Parker,an evolutionary biologist, looked at the skin of thethorny devil (a type of lizard) under a scanning elec-tron microscope, in search of the features that let the60animal channel water from its back to its mouth.Examples like this from the animal world abound.Scientists have learned that colorful birds don'talways have pigment in their wings but are some-times completely brown; it's the layers of keratin65in their wings that produce color. Different colors,which have varying wavelengths, reflect differentlythrough keratin. The discovery of this phenomenoncan be put to use in creating paints and cosmeticsthat won't fade or chip. At the same time, paint for70outdoor surfaces can be made tougher by copyingthe structures found in antler bone. Hearing aidsare being designed to capture sound as well as theears of the Ormia fly do. And why can't we have aself-healing material like our own skin? Researchers75at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinoisare creating just that; they call it an "autonomicmaterials system." A raptor's feathers, a whale's fluke,a mosquito's proboscis—all have functional featureswe can learn from.80The driving force behind these innovations, asidefrom improved performance, is often improvedenergy efficiency. In a world where nonrenew-able energy resources are dwindling and carbonemissions threaten the planet's health, efficiency has85never been more important. Pawlyn agrees: "Forme, biomimicry is one of the best sources of inno-vation to get to a world of zero waste because thoseare the rules under which biological life has had toexist."90Biomimicry is a radical field and one whose prac-titioners need to be radically optimistic, as Pawlynis when he says, "We could use natural productssuch as cellulose, or even harvest carbon from theatmosphere 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
2. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?
3. The author includes a quote in paragraph 4 in order to
4. Based on the information in paragraph 6, how does the shell of an abalone shrimp compare with soft chalk?
5. In paragraph 9, what is the most likely reason that the author included the quote from Pawlyn about efficiency?
6. In line 30, "principles" most nearly means
7. It can be reasonably inferred from the passage that
8. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?
9. As used in line 90, "radical" most nearly means
10. The graphic and caption that accompany this passage help illustrate how biomimicry can be used to
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