Skip to main content

Pythons, beetles, and jellyfish: bioinspiration for photonics applications

Ever wondered why a snake doesn’t slide sideways when headed uphill or across a slippery surface? It isn’t just a matter of muscle and motivation.

The python's underbelly scales
and heat-seeking nose are cause
for inspiration in photonics R&D.
The underbelly scales of pythons have hooks that find traction to propel them in the direction they want to go -- a concept that has been applicable in developing mechanical propulsion systems.

The heat-sensitive cells in the python’s nose help him find food; humans can use information about the creature’s nervous system to develop more effective and adaptable thermal sensors with applications from digital medical thermometers to car radiators and much more.

A 35-year-old python named Monty was the latest “animal ambassador” from the San Diego Zoo’s Centre for Bioinspiration to demonstrate to photonics researchers at a recent meeting how they and others can learn from nature to solve the world’s problems.

In addition to Monty’s visit this year, staff from the Centre for Bioinspiration at the San Diego Zoo brought a great horned owl and a caiman for bioinspiration demostrations in recent years to SPIE Smart Structures/NDE in San Diego. Zoo staff will be back in March 2014 with more as part of an ongoing collaboration between SPIE and the San Diego Zoo to promote bioinspired engineering design.

The eyes and vision of great
horned owls such as Shaman have
informed 
the work of optical designers.
Acoustical engineers found inspiration
in the construction of the owl's wings
for reducing the noise of high-speed trains.
Two additional projects reported on at the meeting borrowed inspiration from nature to help save trees and to explore the ocean depths:

A team from Pennsylvania State University is developing decoys to blunt the spread of tree-killing emerald ash borer beetles. Their larvae feed on the sap of ash trees, killing by depriving trees of nourishment. Entomology professor Thomas Baker teamed up with the research group of engineering science and mechanics professor Akhlesh Lakhtakia, who replicate biological structures such as fly eyes and butterfly wings. The groups developed a decoy that visually replicates the female borer, enabling researchers to trap the males to decrease breeding and thereby larvae. (Read the paper via open access in the SPIE Digital Library through 31 July: "Fabrication and testing of artificial emerald ash borer visual decoys.")

Virginia Tech College of Engineering researchers have built a man-size, autonomous robotic jellyfish, a larger model of a previous robotic jellyfish built by the same team headed by Shashank Priya, professor of mechanical engineering. Jellyfish are attractive candidates to mimic because of their ability to consume little energy owing to a lower metabolic rate than other marine species, the researchers said. With no central nervous system, jellyfish instead use a diffused nerve net to control movement and can complete complex functions. “A larger vehicle will allow for more payload, longer duration, and longer range of operation,” said Alex Villanueva, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering working under Priya. (Read the paper via open access in the SPIE Digital Library through 31 July: "Modeling and control of a jellyfish-inspired AUV.")
 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

#FacesofPhotonics: Optimax Director of Technology and Strategy, Jessica DeGroote Nelson

SPIE Senior Member Jessica DeGroote Nelson works as the director of technology and strategy at Optimax Systems in Ontario, New York. She also teaches as an adjunct assistant professor at The Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester (UR), and is a Conference Chair for SPIE Optifab 2019. 
Nelson also teaches Optical Materials, Fabrication, and Testing for the Optical Engineer at SPIE conferences. This course is geared toward optical engineers who are hoping to learn the basics about how optics are made, and ways in which to help reduce the cost of the optics they are designing. It is also offered online.
"Optical tolerancing and the cost to fabricate an optic can be a point of tension or confusion between optical designers and optical fabricators," Nelson says. "I teach this course to help give optical designers who are new to the field a few tools in their toolbelt as they navigate tolerancing and purchasing some of their first designs. One of the things I lov…

Taking a Deep Dive into the World of Biophotonics

SPIE Student Member Gavrielle Untracht is pursuing her PhD at The University of Western Australia. She had the chance to participate in the 9th International Graduate Summer School in Biophotonics this past June on the island of Ven between Sweden and Denmark.

At the school, sponsored by SPIE, invited experts from around the globe gave extended presentations on topics like tissue optics, strategies for cancer treatment using lasers, and entrepreneurship in photonics. Attendees also had the opportunity to present their current research projects, results, or ideas. Gavrielle shares her experiences of the summer school with this community in the following guest blog post.


I recently returned from a week of great discussions and beautiful weather at the 9th Biophotonics Summer School on the Isle of Ven, Sweden. This experience, made possible (in part) by SPIE, was an invaluable opportunity for networking and a deep dive into the world of biophotonics that I would highly recommend to any…

#FacesofPhotonics: Applied Optics Master's Student Christiane Ebongue

Bonjour! Meet Christiane Ebongue, graduate student at Delaware State University (DSU). Christiane is working on a master's degree in applied optics with a goal of achieving a PhD in Physics. When she is not spending time in the lab —something she says she loves so much, she would even want to be there on her birthday! — she enjoys her role as president of her university's SPIE Student Chapter.

Ebongue moved to the United States from Cameroon for college, although she only spoke French at the time. Learning to speak a new language while learning a new field of science was intimidating, she says, but this feat just speaks to how tenacious of a person Ebongue is.

Another example of this steadfast dedication and passion lies in her photonics advocacy work. After defending her thesis in the morning, Ebongue hopped in her car and drove from Delaware to Washington D.C., to participate in Congressional Visits Day, without missing a beat!

"It was awesome, I don't regret it at …