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How nature's best ideas inspire innovative new technologies

RIVERSIDE, Calif. Human existence has always depended on harvesting from nature for food and shelter, but we now increasingly look to nature for technological ideas. Indeed, the guiding principle behind "biomimicry" designing from nature is that the evolutionary process has already performed innumerable experiments over many millions of years.

Next week, spider silk expert Cheryl Hayashi will give a free public lecture at the University of California, Riverside about biomimetic technologies technologies that borrow ideas from nature that feature in our lives today as well as biomimetic technologies envisioned in the future.

Titled "Designs From Nature: A New Spin on High-performance Materials," the hour-long lecture will begin at 6 p.m., May 5, in Rooms D-E, University Extension Center (UNEX).

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Seating is open. Parking at UNEX will be free for lecture attendees.

"Humans have and will continue to draw inspiration for new technologies from the incredibly rich results of evolutionary experiments that began millennia before we first appeared," said Hayashi, a professor of biology at UC Riverside.

A U.S. Presidential Scholar, National Merit Scholar, and a MacArthur Fellow, Hayashi specializes in the molecular and mechanical characterization of spider silks. Her lab at UCR does extensive mechanical testing of silk fibers from different spider species.

In her lecture, she will cover a few of the spectacular ways that organisms cope with the challenges they face, and relate how people have borrowed concepts from nature to invent new biomimetic technologies, such as Velcro fasteners and sharkskin-surfaced swimsuits. She will discuss the science behind these innovations and the challenges of adapting natural solutions to manmade problems.

As a case study, she will talk about spiders and the efforts to replicate their silks.

"Remarkably, spiders have evolved silks that outperform nearly all natural and manmade fibers in terms of strength, energy absorption, and stretchiness," she said. "These factors, plus a host of other outstanding attributes, make spider silk possibly one of the greatest biomimetic materials of tomorrow."

Scientists have long been fascinated with spider silks used by spiders to move, trap and store food, and to reproduce because of their extraordinary mechanical properties. Different proteins are made and mixed in the silk glands of spiders to create the silk.

Hayashi's talk is being hosted by UCR's College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and the Science Circle, a group of university and community members committed to advancing science at UCR and in Inland Southern California.

The talk is the third of four lectures scheduled this year. The lecture series, titled "Science & Society: Major Issues of the 21st Century," aims to boost the public's awareness and understanding of science and of how scientists work.


Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
University of California - Riverside

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