The Return of Dr. Eiji Nakatsu and Biomimicry

Biomimicry is a branch of science that looks to leverage the results of 3.8 billion years of evolution to solve engineering problems. It asks the question WWND — What Would Nature Do? The theory and practice are used to apply what we can learn from nature to the designs of engineered items.

Recall my blog post from years back

Eiji Nakatsu: Lecture on Biomimicry as applied to a Japanese Train

Dr. Nakatsu is making a return visit to the United States. He will be covering biomimicry via lectures at some schools. He shared his presentation with me, and with his permission, I am sharing a subset of it with It's Alive in the Lab readers.

  • Passengers on a train experience noise from a variety of sources. The noise increases as the speed increases. It would be a disservice to travelers to slow down the train just to make the ride quieter. Commuters want to be able to get to where they are going in as little time as possible.


  • The pantograph is necessary because it connects the train to overhead wires as its source of power. Unfortunately, it is a source of noise due to vibrations at high speeds. A new design that eliminated the vibrations was inspired by the study of owl feathers.


  • An owl's feathers have tiny serrations on the edges. This allows the owl to quietly sneak up on prey at night.


  • By including tiny serrations on the edges of the pantograph, the noise was eliminated.


  • The original design of the shape of the train resulted in a popping noise when going through a tunnel.


  • The shape of the Kingfisher's body is optimal for transitioning from air to water to catch fish.


  • The Kingfisher's body was studied as part of redesigning the shape of the nose of the train.


  • With the train's nose reshaped like the Kingfisher's beak, the popping sound was eliminated.


Entertainer from the 1960's, Bobby Darin, once sang:

"If I could talk to the animals, just imagine it
 Chattin' with a chimp in chimpanzee
 Imagine talking to a tiger, chatting with a cheetah
 What a neat achievement it would be"

We can't talk to animals yet, but we can certainly learn from them.

Biomimicry is alive in the lab.