Xploration Nature Knows Best

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Xploration: Nature Knows Best

“Reinvent the wheel;” To waste a great deal of time or effort in creating something that already exists.

Steel ropes allow us to build bridges across vast spaces. Without them, we wouldn’t have elevators. They’re used to pull heavy loads. The problem, however, is their weight. We can’t, for example, build much taller buildings because the cables of the elevators would become too heavy. Storing and transporting the steel to where it’s needed is also an annoyance.

Luckily, nature has created a substance that has a similar tensile strength to steel but is five times lighter: spider silk. Theoretically, a woven strand of spider-silk as thick as a pencil has enough tensile strength to stop a fully-loaded 380-ton Boeing 747 in full flight! However, getting our hands on these threads is tricky; spiders like to bite. Scientists are working on solving this problem by splicing spider genes into those of silkworms.

Buildings are another thing we need. We spend most of our lives under a roof, protecting us from terrible weather and bad-intentioned people. We learn about the world behind classroom doors, we congregate in churches, and we work together in office buildings. For all the good they do, however, buildings are bad for the environment. Not only do they take an awful lot of building materials, but they take over the land where trees used to be, contributing to rapid climate change.

What if, however, a building could serve the same function as a tree? Scientists and engineers are designing ‘living’ buildings. They have a low carbon footprint but also allow plants to grow on all their surfaces.

Imagine if we could have as much spider-silk available as we have silk. Imagine if we have more oxygen and less carbon every time a new building gets erected. It would change the world forever!

We might not have to imagine it for much longer. Join us on a journey where we showcase these and many more innovations driven by nature in Xploration: Nature Knows Best.

Mondays to Fridays at 8 PM on Da Vinci (ch 308) from Monday, 12 April

Author: Jan Hendrik Harmse