Estate Living Magazine Investment - Issue 34 October 2018 - Page 54

Natural inspiration When last did you walk in a pine forest, where the swish of your shoes through the bed of pine needles was punctuated by the occasional thwack as a pine cone fell to the ground? Ordinarily, most of us would bend down, pick it up, breathe in the heady pine scent and either toss it aside or keep it to add to the Christmas tree. Some, however, would take a second look – like a team of Swiss scientists did – and learn from nature’s amazing future-proofing strategies. In the case of the humble pine cone, it future-proofs itself by ensuring that it releases its seeds at the perfect time, when the conditions are best suited for dispersal. In warm, dry weather, when conditions are optimal, the seed-bearing scales of the pine cone open, enabling the paper-thin seeds to be carried away in the breeze, whereas in cooler, humid conditions the scales close tightly, protecting the seeds from being damaged by the damp weather. Ingenious, one says … absolutely! Biomimicry (noun) is the ‘design and production of materials, structures and systems modelled on biological entities and processes’. In lay terms it’s when designers, engineers and product developers are so blown away by what nature does that they just cannot help but be inspired to copy it in some way. And that’s what happened when a team of material scientists from ETH Zürich, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics university in the city, were inspired by – generally – how plant components respond to external stimuli, and – specifically – the way the pine cone’s scales work. When we look at a pine cone, we see just the woody scales, but each scale consists of two firmly connected layers with rigid fibres running perpendicular to one another. It is this alignment that allows the differential expansion. Exposure to moisture causes one layer to expand, which forces the scale to bend in the opposite direction, thus closing the pine cone. Savvy researchers realised this property could be used in a number of 52 | www.estate-living.co.za