How animals help us create materials on World Animal Day
Today is World Animal Day, so a good time to take a moment and appreciate how animals help us create all sorts of wonderful materials, without the need to harm them. Happy World Animal Day, to you and your pet!
Wool, felted or not, is an amazing insulator, which everyone who has ever worn a wool sweater will tell you. Even when it’s wet, it will keep you warm. It is not only great to make clothes, however. You can also use it as insulation for your house, keeping the building warm in winter and cool in summer. It is recyclable, biodegradable, and a sheep will easily grow it back, so it is also renewable!
Sheep’s wool, however, is not the only type of animal hair you can use to make materials. Alpaca wool, cashmere (the fur of the Kashmir goat), and even horse, dog, and camel hair can be used to make materials!
Antlers are extensions of the skull of male deer and grow back each year. As a result, they fall off at the end of each mating season (as opposed to horns, which are permanent). Once the antlers have fallen off naturally, they can be collected and used to make materials, for instance a beautiful mosaic.
They might not be warm and cuddly, but insects are vital to our eco system, and our materials! Many biobased materials are made from crops with are pollinated by various insects, but insects themselves can produce the ingredients as well. You can 3D print beeswax, for instance, and designer Marlène Huissoud uses insect by-products to create artistic objects.
While it may sound a bit icky, animal poo is a valuable resource. It does not only work as a fertiliser, but you can also make materials out of them. Examples include paper and biodegradable flowerpots, but you can also use it to make terracotta. The project Mestic uses cow dung to make paper, plastic and even textile.
We do not need to use animal products to be inspired by animals for our materials. Researchers and designers alike are turning to nature, and thus also to animals, for better, stronger and more beautiful materials.
Researchers have been looking at squids and jellyfish for smart materials with camouflaging capabilities. Fish and reptile scales have been an inspiration for strong, flexible, and protective materials. Butterfly wings inspire hydrophobic material. Insulating materials inspired by sea otters and polar bears could soon keep you at a comfortable temperature. Various companies have been trying to replicate the tensile strength of spider silk. Animal-free leather is also up and coming.
But not only materials are inspired by animals, designs are as well. Architectural firm Choi+Shine Architects, for example, created large installations inspired by sea urchins. Scientists based the shape of wind turbine blades on the shape of the fins of humpback whales. Various design and architectural studios have used the patterns of butterfly and dragonfly wings as inspiration.
How will your favourite animal inspire your (material) design?