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By Sue Bellinger


Increasingly we’re becoming aware that energy and other resources are ever scarcer and more expensive.  And if we pursue our existing habits, we’ll get only more of the same result. 


Nature on the other hand through evolving and adapting over aeons has developed ways of generating energy – benignly.  Without fuss, electricity or emissions.  An example?  Which one of us hasn’t seen a termite mound?  This marvel of engineering barely merits a glance from most of us.  Yet tiny engineers, displaying teamwork that we mere mortals can only dream of, design and operate this structure such that a constant temperature is maintained.  That's no mean feat. Termite mounds are marvels of engineering. Deep inside, the insects farm a fungus, their only food. It must be kept at exactly 30 degrees, while the temperatures on the African veld outside range from around zero degrees at night to 40 degrees or more during the day.

They do it by venting breezes in at the base of the mound, down into chambers cooled by wet mud carried up from water tables far below, and up through a flue to the peak. Toiling with the tireless, compulsive work ethic of all ants, they constantly dig new vents and plug old ones to regulate the temperature. 


Zimbabwe's Eastgate office block was designed based on the termite mound.  See for this and other amazing examples of nature guiding change.


Remember when The Olympic Committee banned swimming suits which mimicked shark skins?  ‘Unfair advantage’ they declared.  Well reveals another shark skin secret that’s been put to beneficial use.  Scientists recognised that the distinct diamond-shaped pattern in shark skin - revealed by microscopes - contribute to sharks’ resistance to bacteria.  One of the results?  Bacteria-repelling sheets in hospitals. 




From the Greek words ‘bios’ meaning ‘life’ and ‘mimesis’ meaning ‘imitate’, Biomimicry is a relatively new and exciting science.  Claire Janisch – Chemical Engineer turned environmentalist and now Africa’s first Biomimicry graduate – is hitting the floor running in spreading this amazing concept right here in SA.


Anyone in the design or engineering fields, who recognizes the potential inherent in interrogating nature for innovation inspiration would do well to take a look at for more info, or contact Claire Janisch on [email protected] for info on local education and training.


Oh and next time you see someone aiming a boot at a termite mound, let them know how extraordinary these structures are, and leave the termites to continue to work their magic.


Last Update: 2010/07/30 / Author: admin
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