Can A Mindless Process Become An Engineer?

In the promising field of biomimetics where intelligently designed human-made processes, substances, devices, or systems come about by imitating nature. In most research papers, very little is said about evolution, although many of the papers will give evolution credit. In a quest to integrate everything originating from a mindless process including engineering, evolution has now become an engineer too!

Sounds contrary doesn’t it? Because engineering is an application of scientific and mathematical principles to practical ends such as the design, manufacturing, along with producing efficient and economical structures or machines, various processes and more.

Science Daily applies engineering to evolution with its headline...”Evolution Inspires More Efficient Solar Cell Design,” the article goes on to say…

Using a mathematical search algorithm based on natural evolution, the researchers pinpointed a specific geometrical pattern that is optimal for capturing and holding light in thin-cell organic solar cells.…

The researchers employed a genetic algorithm, a search process that mimics the process of natural evolution, explained Wei Chen, Wilson-Cook Professor in Engineering Design and professor of mechanical engineering at McCormick and co-investigator of the research.”

“Due to the highly nonlinear and irregular behavior of the system, you must use an intelligent approach to find the optimal solution,” Chen said. “Our approach is based on the biologically evolutionary process of survival of the fittest.”

How can intelligent engineering be connected to survival of the fittest? It even says in the research paper, you must use an “intelligent approach” to achieve optimization! That isn’t evolution, that is intelligent design! This is an experiment that uses artificial selection with of a purpose of a design by using an algorithm created by intelligence, and pinpointing a desired result. How can an unguided and mindless process who’s only goal is to improve competition for survival?

And on another subject, why would evolution break its own rule by creating more complex creatures which are not as fit as bacteria is? Bacteria as you might know is the most adaptable creature on earth, which can survive in the most extreme elements known to man. Why would evolution tinker with that (if it could) to make creature less fit for survival? Just like linking evolution to engineering, it doesn’t make logical sense!

What Seems So Ordinary Is Quite Amazing

When observing nature in our daily lives, what seems to be just ordinary plants and animals around us are actually quite extraordinary. My cousin used to one of the leading experts in the country on butterflies, since retired he is still maintains his fascination for these remarkable designed creatures.

It would not be uncommon to find him filming butterflies in his front yard which I found him doing as he his property is distinctly set up to attract various kinds. He is not the only one who enjoys such hobbies, Loretta Downs like to raise butterflies in her garden as well.

In Phys.org

“You’d know it by the stained-glass wings of orange and black with drips of white, and the thousands upon thousands of butterflies that flutter in the monarch’s migratory river. It’s one that stretches from the old-growth oyamel fir forests in the mountains of central Mexico across 2,000 miles – with a scheduled stop, year after year, in Downs’ urban milkweed patch – to southern Canada, along the shores of Lake Ontario and beyond.”

What causes leaves to sprout in the spring? In Canada a few weeks ago, trees were bare looked lifeless, but all of sudden they are now bursting with buds everywhere. It’s a transformation that you generally will not discover on Mars or Titan!

“It’s actually two things. Even though we’re in the spring now, the whole program that you’re observing was set up in the autumn. As the days get shorter in the autumn and the temperatures decline, the tree sets itself up to go dormant and then in the same program sets itself up to burst bud in the spring.  And of the two components I mentioned, day length and temperature, the one in the autumn that’s most important is day length.”

“That functions as a signal for the plant to begin to shut down.  Actually, to put it another way, it’s night length that’s important.  As the nights get longer, the plant perceives the lengthening night or the shortening day and embarks on a program to shut down” says -PhysOrg. 

When camping further away from the main city, many times we hear what is called, cricket-like bugs called cicadas will be emerging from their underground hideouts which come of them have been in hiding for 13 to 17 years before that surface to perform their mating rituals.

“Scientists have little idea how vast broods of these insects manage to synchronize their long schedules and emerge simultaneously. The synchrony even extends across species. “A single brood may be comprised of one to three different species of periodical cicadas,” said Greg Hoover of the Penn State Department of Entomology.”

Although the article invokes evolution into the observation which always leaves questions begging, by claiming the reason why crickets (as we call them here) are exact in their timing (13 and 17 years) with their surfacing which makes them more elusive to predictors thus they say, evolution is responsible. The story about evolution (where instructions has evolved from one cricket to the next that enabled them to surface at the precise time) is not necessary in this observation and completely false in its notion, these noisy little bug-like crickets are quite remarkable in their designed behavior.

The U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center in West Bethesda, Maryland held a contest last month where two teams that are robot-building are trying to imitate the elegant swimming of the manta ray. Elisabeth Pennisi writes in Science

“Mantas are everything one could want in an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV).  “I’ve thought for a long time that the people who are interested in robotic mimicry were missing the boat in not looking at manta rays,” says Adam Summers, a comparative biomechanist at Friday Harbor Laboratories in Washington state.  Most fish swing their body from side to side, and “that’s not very handy if you are trying to stuff [instruments] inside.”

“The manta body is stiff.  Mantas are also quiet, efficient swimmers—AUVs tend to be one or the other.  The best AUVs have a turning radius of 0.7 body lengths; the manta needs just 0.27 its body length and maneuvers like a fighter plane.  Based on the two robots’ performance, “in terms of maneuverability, we’re on the right track” in understanding how mantas achieve such grace, says Frank Fish, a functional morphologist at West Chester University in Pennsylvania who is working with UVa and Princeton on the manta project.”

Even though, she detailed how teams from Princeton and University of Virginia both failed, ended in a draw, the engineering design is on the right track but there is still a lot to know about these amazing animals! Science gets along great without invoking evolution into it. These observations are real, testable while many of the stories in evolution get falsified, some aspects of the story which is mounting more and more are not testable. The fun part of science is learning how nature works, even what seems ordinary around us is quite amazing when you take a closer look!

Amazing Engineering Being Discovered In Nature

One of the best bug control sources found in warm climates like South Florida are Geckos. There are about 900 known variants of this species which loves to eat sweet fruit like peaches, papaya and apricots. They are best known for eating locusts, crickets, grasshoppers and cockroaches or any other insects that are available in their environment.

These amazing lizards have been a focus for scientific study because of their unique way of sticking to various surfaces. For example, in September 2010, engineers using Gecko inspiration came up with a reversible adhesion method for printing electronics on a variety of tricky surfaces such as clothes, plastic and leather.  In August 2010, a Stanford mechanical engineer modeled the Gecko’sintricate designed” foot in his robot known as, Stickybot which  can now climb up smooth surfaces!

Recently, Gecko research has been focused on improving human adhesives…Geckos can cling to walls and ceilings even when their feet are wet unlike human adhesives which get slippery when wet. How do they accomplish this?

Science daily reports…

“Graduate student Michael Prowse decided to take a closer look at the material properties of the reptile’s feet. Knowing that setae are composed of keratin and keratin is softened by high humidity, Autumn wondered whether having softer setae could improve the reptiles’ contact with surfaces and increase their van der Waals adhesion. The team decided to measure the setae’s softness and how it changed as the humidity rose.”

“Puthoff built a mathematical model to see if softer, more deformable, setae could explain the gecko’s improved attachment at high humidity and found that it did. Not only did increased softness strengthen the contact between the setae and the surface but also it made it easier for the reptile to peel its foot off. So instead of improving gecko’s attachment through microscopic bridges, higher humidity softens the setae that coat the reptile’s feet to help them hold fast and peel free with ease.”

Silkworms are another interesting focus for research. Man-made substances becomes weak when wet while silk becomes more concentrated when it wet. Researchers from Sweden working with other from Oxford found…

“At the native concentration the proteins form a compact helical structure with a radius of gyration of about 90nm; as they are diluted they unfold until they are 130nm in size. In the lab, the effect is a like a neat ball of string becoming unravelled into a big mess that ties itself in knots.”

“However, the silkworms are able to control this process so that the proteins are spun into highly ordered silk filaments as they unfold and begin to flow. This surprising observation is a vital step towards understanding the liquid precursor, which is essential to synthesise silk and develop new materials with silk’s desirable mechanical properties.”

Silkworms have exceeded the capabilities of the scientists to control this substance. It is refreshing to see many reports like these that attempt to mimic specialized complex properties of cells and plants without not going into the whole evolution story explanation. Although from time to time, the likes of MIT News gives evolution the credit for all the amazing designed work found in nature that came from God but Darwinian evolution doesn’t give any help in the progress of these discoveries.