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How We Learn from Nature

Nature is a treasure chest of ideas
Sometimes when you walk through a grassy area, your clothes feel scratchy with burrs, right? Over fifty years ago, a man had this same experience in Switzerland. His name was George de Mestral.

While he was out deep in the mountains with his dog, he realized many wild burdock cockleburs had stuck to his clothing and the dog's fur. He wondered how the burrs stick, and decided to look at them under a microscope.

On the surface, he could see that the burrs had numerous tiny hooks with which they could cling to clothes and fur.

This discovery led George de Mestral to an invention--the "hook and loop fastener"--two pieces of fabric that stick together and can be peeled apart an infinite number of times. The fastener is made of special nylon thread where one piece has countless miniscule hooks and the other has countless loops.

This is one example where we took nature (in this case, the cocklebur of a burdock plant) as a model to create a useful everyday product.

There are many other natural wonders that are beyond the boundaries of modern science and technology. Recently, in the United States and other countries, researchers have been conducting studies in an attempt to invent new products by imitating nature.

For example, have you ever seen blue mussels sticking to a shore reef? Blue mussels and abalone bond to the reefs so firmly that you can hardly remove them. These shellfish, however, can apparently move with ease whenever they want.

From these shellfish you might learn a way to invent an adhesive that can make objects stick together or come apart easily in water. In fact, there are researchers examining the "adhesive protein" released from blue mussels and abalone.

In this way, through our wonderment of nature's marvelous power and interest in learning something from it we will become humbly aware that humans are not the only important creature on the planet.

This awareness is the key to solving global environmental problems.

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