Materials Gone Wild

More than 953,000 species of animals have been described around the world.  From mammals to invertebrates, the characteristics displayed by these species are remarkably diverse.  These organisms often have interesting properties, which can inspire new materials.  Plants can inspire new materials as well, they often have interesting structural or adhesive properties.

Close-up view of Velcro

Maybe the most well-known example of this phenomenon is Velcro.  This handy tool for attachment was formulated by a Swiss man, George de Mestral, after he returned from a hike in the woods to find burrs stuck to his coat and his dog.  From this observation, de Mestral created Velcro, which has been a day-to-day staple for years.  Happy accidents like this one aren’t the only way in which bioinspired materials are created.  Another material began in the deep sea, with an organism called glass sponges.  These organisms’ skeletons are made of a type of glass which has a density one tenth of that of water, while still being incredibly strong.  The science behind this seeming contradiction comes from its wide range of structural sizes.  This sponge’s skeleton has structures on the nano, micro, and millimeter scales.  This allows an unprecedented level of structural integrity, which wouldn’t be possible with just a traditional structure.

Glass sponge skeleton

In order to stay in their desired habitat, mollusks utilize a super-strong adhesive to adhere to rocks.  This adhesive is a product of a few key amino acids, which have been recently isolated for human usage.  The advantages of a mollusk-inspired adhesive come from the challenges these organisms have to face in their environment.  Since these animals live in marine habitats, this adhesive is waterproof and quick-drying, which can be incredibly useful for numerous commercial applications.

Blue Morpho Butterfly

If you’ve ever seen the blue morpho butterfly, you know how brightly iridescent its coloring is.  Its wings are a bold, beautiful blue, and this intense coloration comes from its structure and its interaction with light, rather than from pigments.  This structure can be replicated with a printable mold, and this technology can be added to iridescent paint.  It also has the potential to be useful in anti-counterfeit devices.  This structural iridescence is something that would have taken years and years of development, but because of its presence in the animal kingdom, scientists could take a leap forward in their research of this fascinating property.


One of the biggest problems in hospitals today is the potential for infection.  Bacteria can travel throughout the hospital, putting lives at risk.  For a solution, materials scientists turned to some animals which almost never get sick- sharks.  The skin of sharks have a distinctive pattern, which can be replicated in plastic.  This pattern, for some reason, inhibits the survival of bacteria, and can reduce the potential for infection significantly.

A microscopic view of the shark skin inspired material

The fact of the matter is, ideas for new materials can come from anywhere.  Every new organism we discover has unlimited potential to change the world, we simply must be willing to take a closer look.  Whether from deep-sea creatures or everyday plants, nature can influence the field of materials science in ways many people never would have anticipated.


Until next time,



3 thoughts on “Materials Gone Wild

  1. Natalie: again, great thoughts. I love the idea of looking all over the place for materials containing the ability to change the world. With 953,000 discovered species, one can only imagine the improvements made to everyday life by taking something small from each. I would be curious to gain insight to your thoughts about these possibilities and their effects on various species and ecosystems. For instance, what about species already endangered or species that have the potential to shortly own that same title? With 953,000 though, I’m sure we could look elsewhere to improve. Also props to you on the sharkskin design, that’s super neat and I would’ve never thought anything of it if I hadn’t read it here.

  2. Natalie,
    This is such a cool idea for a blog! I haven’t learned anything about science since AP chemistry in high school and I found this to be very interesting! I really liked being able to look at everyday things in an entirely new way. Looking at nature as a source of inspiration to make new materials is something that has never crossed my mind before. I was especially interested in the thought of using shark skin as a model to limit the spread of bacteria in hospitals. That is such a big problem solved in a very cool way.

    Thanks for the materials science lesson!

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