All patterns are in nature

Taking the living as a model to respond to the social and environmental challenges of the 21st century: this is the ambition of bio-inspiration. Decryption of this concept on the occasion of the Bio-inspired exhibition opening today at the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie in Paris, of which CNRS is a partner.

Imitating the living, its forms, materials, structures or operating rules to derive ingenious solutions is not a new idea. If the first occurrence of the word “biomimicry” appears in 1969 under the influence of the American scientist Otto Schmidt, practice is actually much older. ” Learn from nature, you will find your future there “, Already recommended Leonardo da Vinci, without a doubt the first of biomimetics. Through his extraordinary flying machines and animated beasts, he strove all his life to break down the laws of nature through numerous observations.

The study of evolution shows us that nature does not maximize, it optimizes to protect itself, to adapt to its environment, to resist change.

However, it was not until 1997 under the pen of the American biologist Janine Benyus – in her book Biomimicry, when nature inspires sustainable innovations That biomimicry acquires its ecological dimension. It’s a question for the biologist to learn from nature. ” by mimicking 3.8 billion years of adaptive technology to help innovators design sustainable products and processes that create enabling conditions for all life forms “.

It is this virtuous approach to understanding life and sustainability that is at the heart of the new exhibition presented at the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie. “, explains Philippe Grandcolas, Director of the Department of Systematics, Evolution, Biodiversity and member of the exhibition’s scientific committee. “ We understand that bio-inspiration is not just an industrial innovation solution, like the burdock flower that may have inspired scratches. Above all, it invites us to take a new look at our environment and living things, to live differently in the world. “, he adds.

The color of the wings of the Morpho butterfly is not due to a pigment but to a single molecule, chitin. It is the same molecule that enables Morpho’s wings to be waterproof, antibacterial and resistant. Chitin can be used in cosmetics, for example, to replace toxic pigments.

An immersive and sensual journey

The exhibition takes place in the Greenhouse of Science and Industry. Immersed in three natural ecosystems – a coral reef and its phytosanitary device, a mangrove and its mangroves, a forest floor and its permaculture garden – the visitor discovers the most important rules for the constitution or function of living things: the biosphere, governed by the innumerable interactions between species, both cooperative and competitive; non-polluting energy production, photosynthesis; or even the paradox of an incredibly diverse living being, yet based on few elements, the famous CHNOPs, which make up the majority of organisms. Each visit is meant to be unique: the ecosystems will evolve throughout the year, and the seasons will be artificially rendered to respect their balance.

As an agro-ecologist apprentice, visitors can virtually transform a farm by varying the crops. The goal: to discover possible balances between soil conservation, increased biodiversity and an economically viable and resilient model.

The choice of these ecosystems was not left to chance: now seriously threatened by global change and human activities, they stand out as incredible reservoirs of biodiversity. The forest floor, for example, extends almost 45 m2 in the greenhouse. Composed of foliage and decomposing wood, without the addition of fertilizers or pesticides, the soil will enrich itself naturally. ” Economically in terms of energy and elements, living things do not produce irreparable waste: everything is permanently recycled “, Explains Philippe Grandcolas.

Faced with the biodiversity crisis, we must regain all these dimensions of life that escape us, study them, and draw inspiration from them to build more sustainable societies.

Thus, in a container under glass placed directly on the humus, one can observe objects in decomposition; on the screen next to it, a time-lapse allows you to watch the decomposition process accelerate: earthworms and insects nibble on an apple, which then becomes the raw material for a new living being. By evoking curiosity, wonder, reflection, this exhibition is an invitation to see and better understand nature and its mechanisms, which are the basis of biomimetic thinking., adds the researcher. Faced with the biodiversity crisis, we must regain all these dimensions of life that escape us, study them, and draw inspiration from them to build more sustainable societies. »

Thinking of sustainable and responsible solutions

Eating, thinking of new materials, getting out of fossil fuels, processing information, developing the circular economy and even rethinking our habitat, all solutions already seem to be in nature. ” The study of evolution shows us that nature does not maximize, it optimizes to protect itself, to adapt to its environment, to resist change. “, Emphasizes Philippe Grandcolas. The art of drawing inspiration from life to innovate seems more than ever to be a big and flourishing trend for chemists and materials specialists. In France, more than 175 interdisciplinary research teams are now mobilizing around this new approach.

To at each stage of the exhibition, modules allow the public to discover bio-inspired alternative solutions. Among them the mussel, the queen of limpots: it adheres to stones thanks to very effective adhesive proteins, which retain their properties in water. These bio-inspired solvents can e.g. used for the manufacture of plywood boards. On the side of soft chemistry, we are inspired by diatoms, a microscopic single-celled algae that abounds in lakes and rivers. This organism is capable of making a glass shell of silica dissolved in water at room temperature, whereas the melting point of silica is artificially above 1,500 ° C.

Diatoms “Surirella spiralis”, a brown microalgae, in connecting vision (on the side). The cell membrane of diatoms is impregnated with organic silica, forming a rigid sheath consisting of two valves maintained by a set of connecting belts.

Faced with the explosion of digital data, researchers are also considering revolutionary storage methods. Among the most promising pathways: the DNA molecule. Although still very complex to set up, a single kilogram of DNA may be enough to store all the global data currently available on the servers.

(…) Sobriety, which reigns supreme in nature, is the first of the bio-inspired solutions adopted.

In a film that can be seen along the exhibition route, the work of Claude Grison, chemist and winner of the Innovation Medal in 2014is also in the spotlight: his discoveries underlie twelve CNRS patents, which not only make it possible to use plants to gradually clean up mining sites, but also to utilize the metals that these plants have absorbed, such as palladium, essential for to synthesize many substances.

At the end of the visit, a new dissemination space, Le Biolab, provides an opportunity for discussion and experimentation around the exhibition and participating science projects. ” The goal of this immersive journey is also to succeed in establishing and nurturing a positive dialogue between science and society. And above all, to convey the message at the heart of the philosophy of bio-inspiration: sobriety, which reigns supreme in nature, is the first of the bio-inspired solutions to be put to use. If the living world is a huge source of lessons, then let’s ensure that today’s solutions do not become tomorrow’s problems. concludes Philippe Grandcolas.

To to see
EBio-inspired exhibition, a new approach, from 18 September 2020, City of Science and Industry, Paris. In partnership with CNRS and Inrae.

To read on our page
Anthropological view of biomimicry
Soft chemistry: naturally creative
All liquid crystals are in nature
When architecture imitates nature (point of view)
In Leonardo’s notebooks (file, Sagascience collection)

To look at our site
The robot inspired by an ant (video)
Wings of the future (video)

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