The San Diego Zoo’s very own Helen Cheng and Sunni Robertson were featured on KPBS, San Diego public radio on September 21, 2010. They also brought along with them a very vocal avian friend, Matilda the laughing kookaburra. The laughing kookaburra is the largest member of the kingfisher family, and kingfishers inspired the efficient streamlined shape of the Japanese bullet train, one of the best-known examples of biomimicry.
The bullet train was initially designed to mimic the shape of a bullet. It was an effective design, and the train reached very high speeds, but tunnels were a huge problem. The train would build up a pressure wave in the tunnel and emit a very loud “boom!” as it exited. This was a disturbing experience for people on the train, people near the train, and any wildlife in the area. It became necessary to find a new design.
The engineers turned to nature and found the kingfisher’s unique ability to go from one medium (air) to another medium (water) without disturbing the surface. The streamlined shape of the kingfisher’s beak and head became the template for the new bullet train, completely solving the sound problem and even increasing the maximum speed. It was biomimicry in action.
The San Diego Zoo is hosting a series of biomimicry-themed receptions featuring wine and cheese, networking opportunities, leading business and academic speakers, and animal encounters: Wine, Cheese, and Nature’s Wonders. The next one will be held at the Zoo on Wednesday, October 27. More information on these events can be found in our biomimicry section.
Dena Emmerson is the Biomimicry Research Assistant at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Biomimicry: Design Inspired by Nature.
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