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San Diego Zoo Will Mimic Nature To Create New Products

— "Biomimicry" describes the process of creating products and services that copy natural phenomena. And now the San Diego Zoo has created a new division, within the Zoo, that will incubate product ideas, derived from nature.

Aired 8/24/12 on KPBS News.

The San Diego Zoo wants to create innovative products for the American marketplace by stealing ideas from mother nature.

The morpho butterfly has a bright blue color, due to a structural pattern on its wings. Mimicking that structure has allowed cell-phone makers to enhance colors on their screens.
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Above: The morpho butterfly has a bright blue color, due to a structural pattern on its wings. Mimicking that structure has allowed cell-phone makers to enhance colors on their screens.

The project is called the Centre for Bioinspiration. Its managing director is Larry Stambaugh, who said the Centre will identify plant and animal knowledge that could have commercial applications, and then try to develop them into working models.

"Far enough along that we can then find a collaborator, a corporation or an institution, that will pick it up from there and apply it into a product or service," said Stambaugh.

One example of biomimicry comes from the morpho butterfly, whose brilliant blue wings are due to a structural pattern that reflects blue light. Stambaugh said Qualcomm has used that pattern to create more vivid colors on its cell phone screens.

Another example is found on the skin of a shark, onto which barnacles are unable to attach themselves.

"And when they looked closer they saw a pattern on the skin that specifically is non-sticky, that the barnacles and things don't stick to," said Stambaugh. "And they're using that pattern now on the hulls of ships."

A study by Point Loma Nazarene University found biomimicry could help the local economy. The study said developing such products had the potential to add 2,100 jobs and $325 million in annual revenues to the San Deigo region.

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