The other night I thought my refrigerator was on the blink, as it seemed to be making an odd, rather annoying noise. When I shook it a bit, the sound would stop, but as soon as I walked away it would start again. Later, after going to bed, I became aware that this particular noise actually filled the entire apartment. I then realized it wasn’t the refrigerator after all — it was a cricket. Immediately, the sound went from being irritating to pleasant. Lying there listening to it, in fact, I couldn’t help but think about the energy it must take this cricket to produce that much sound and what a wonder it is. And that, in turn, got me thinking about biomimicry, which is the science of mimicking nature in order to find the keys to solving complex problems.
Natural science writer Janine Benyus is famous for her work in this field, as is the product-design firm Pax Scientific and its CEO, Jay Harman. Biomimicry is an incredible discipline that has led to inventions such as velcro and “gecko tape,” which emulates the selective stickiness of the gecko lizard’s feet.
It has also helped in improving other products, such as wind turbines that were modeled on whale flippers to increase their performance and Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train, the front end of which was redesigned to emulate the beak of the kingfisher, making it much quieter as well as faster and more energy efficient.
The more I thought about the wonder of this sound and the cricket’s remarkable ability to keep it going for hours, the more I realized how much there is to learn from Mother Nature. I firmly believe that all of the answers to our environmental, food, and energy dilemmas are embedded in such natural phenomena — and that discovering them could be as simple as understanding the mechanism that enables my friend the cricket to produce so persistent and pronounced a noise all through the night.