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Ingredient Innovation: Inspired by Nature

By: Sara Mason
Posted: March 2, 2012, from the March 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 5 of 6

Of course, the solution is not always what you might think it should be. The answer may not be a chemical solution, replacing a toxic ingredient with a less toxic one, for example. It may be a structural or engineering concept instead.

Nature makes color with pigment, right? Not always. The wings of many brightly colored butterflies are not pigmented. They obtain their color by physically manipulating light. The photonic structures present on their surface selectively reflect certain frequencies of light, with extreme specificity and efficiency. Like soap bubbles or seashells, they often have a dramatic color shift quality that can be mimicked with unique, multilayer, submicroscopic layers that similarly play with spacing or wavelengths to give off different colors.

“What is so exciting about biomimicry is that when you have no idea what to do about a problem, it opens a whole new solutions space, allowing you to think outside the box,” says Bryony Schwan, executive director of Biomimicry 3.8, which works with companies to solve specific design challenges and to rethink how they do business at a more sustainable level.

Schwan and her colleagues see manufacturers from across industries frustrated because they are using chemicals that have adverse effects. They want to respond to those advocating for alternatives, but they don’t always know where to turn. Biomimicry is a solution space that is being turned to more often. “We understand what some of the challenges are and have had success looking to nature to find solutions,” says Schwan.

Biomimicry 3.8 encourages companies not to be limited by which problems are most amenable to a biomimetical solution. “Any problem can be addressed,” comments Dorfman. “Start with those that are causing the biggest known health effects or the biggest impact to your product in a positive way.”