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Inspiration from Nature - Using Biology to Learn about Materials

Dr John Dunlop | Max Planck Institute of Colliods and Interfaces, Germany

Inspiration from Nature - Using Biology to Learn about Materials

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Compared to an engineer, who can easily access the entire periodic table, Nature uses only a limited palette of elements to make structural materials. Despite this, Nature achieves a wide range of materials properties by combining simple building blocks in complex architectures into composite materials. The hope that we can learn new design strategies by examining natural materials has thus driven an enormous amount of research in recent years, in the directions of bio-inspired materials design or even bionics, terms that have proven to be highly stimulating and attractive for young students. In addition to just bringing two fields together, one of the consequences of this research is that many useful and insightful examples of "textbook" concepts from materials science can also be "discovered" in Nature. Concepts from materials science can indeed be used to understand biological problems and conversely can also be used as novel illustrative examples to help students access materials science from a somewhat different perspective. This presentation will give an overview of some examples of the sort of research we and colleagues are doing, and try to highlight through these examples how we as materials engineers can not only use materials science knowledge to better understand natural tissues but also learn to think more broadly about materials science.