Bioinspiration

Job, in his response to one of his supposed “comforters” said: “But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; and let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:7-10).  Man has learned so much from studying God’s creation. As we study the motions of birds and animals we learn many things that we have applied to the design of our own devices. Such application to human engineering inspired by design in the natural world God created is called “bioinspiration,” a field that has grown in both size and importance in the past century. And yet we were encouraged to learn from the animals and birds in probably the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job, written somewhere around 2,000 B.C.! 
     Humans have been trying to soar like the birds for millennia but after multiple failures, it seemed that maybe manned, mechanized flight was impossible. However, along came Wilbur and Orville Wright, whose mother, a strong creationist had a love for birds and could identify a bird by its song. She taught this love to her sons and after observing birds effortlessly gliding for long distance, they concluded that if a bird’s wings could sustain it in the air without the use of any muscles, there’s no reason they couldn’t copy their design and enable man to fly. The brothers, who had been experimenting with mechanical things throughout their lives, began work on trying to duplicate the structure of the birds’ wings. They recognized that a critical factor was the shape of the wing which they endeavored to copy. Observing birds (like Job recommended!) was one way their approach to flight differed significantly from their contemporary experimenters whose focus was on developing more powerful engines. The brothers focused on wing design, realizing the wing needed to be curved to force air on top to travel faster than air underneath, since faster-moving air has less pressure, creating lift from the air below the wing.
     Wilbur and Orville spent many hours studying birds in flight. They noticed that birds changed the shape of their wings to turn and maneuver and saw how “a buzzard maintained its balance in the air chiefly by twisting its dropped wing. This twist increased the air pressure on the dropped wing and restored the bird to level flight” (Acts and Facts, September 2018, page 16). The brothers copied this design to enable their flying machine to bank or lean into a turn just like a bird.They spent the next three years incorporating what they had learned and built a glider. They selected Kitty Hawk, North Carolina as their test site and in 1900 successfully tested their 50-pound biplane glider with a 17-foot wingspan in both unmanned and piloted flights.  Experiencing problems with the glider spinning out of control, Wilbur and Orville built a small wind tunnel for further testing, resulting in a redesign of their glider—this time with a 32-foot wing span and a movable tail (again from observing how birds used their tails to maneuver in flight. They used a small homebuilt wind tunnel to collect the data that enabled them to construct more efficient wings.
     Next they designed a propeller and motor and built a powered aircraft weighing 700 pounds. It became known as The Flyer. On Dec. 17, 1903, Orville Wright took The Flyer on a 12-second flight, the first successful powered, piloted flight in history. Few men have changed the world in greater ways than the Wright brothers, and they started by following Job’s advice to observe “the birds of the heavens and let them tell you” Job. 12:7. 
    While the Wright brother’s contribution to mankind through the use of bioinspiration may be unsurpassed in its importance to mankind, the list of human engineering devices from observing God’s creation is a long one and one that continues to grow. Aeronautical engineers were able to dampen the noise of turbine engines by designing the fins after the feathers on an owl’s wings. Owls are able to fly nearly completely silently.  Others, in attempts to improve helicopter design, have studied the structure of dragon flies’ wings and how they are able to hover and take off vertically.  Sports science, in order to design safer football helmets, studied the construction of a woodpeckers brain and skull. Woodpeckers, of course can spend hours beating their beaks against a hard tree without damage to their brains.  Mankind has profited greatly by observing birds and animals which were designed by an all-knowing, all-powerful Creator God. 
     In addition to the physical features of God’s creatures that we can try to copy to improve our mechanical devices, there are many life lessons to learn from them. For example, In Solomon’s book of wisdom, he writes: “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise” (Pr. 4:4). Or, consider the amazing honey bees. I did a whole series of “Wisdom of the Week” articles on honey bees and what they teach us about the need to be reliable messengers in sharing the truth about God who alone can provide eternal life to those who are lost.
     As you observe birds and animals in the future, ask God to teach you.
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
    

About Pastor Dave

Until my retirement 2 years ago, I pastored an independent Bible church in Northwest Montana for nearly 38 years. During that time I also helped establish a Christian school, and a Bible Camp. I am married and have children and grandchildren. The Wisdom of the Week devotional is an outgrowth of my desire to share what God is doing in my life and in our world, and to challenge you to be a part.
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