Bionics: Diatoms and Modernism
If you are lucky enough to have seen the Blobjects and Beyond exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Art, then you know about the recent trend toward a new modernism. Still clean and simple, this "blobject" ideal tries to evoke emotion through playful organic curves. This is a welcome change from the rigor mortis that was rectilinear modernism. And besides being playful, it's a much more natural beauty. And diatoms were using these same tricks eons before Ross Lovegroove was born.
So what the heck are they? Diatoms are tiny single celled algae that grow glassy cell walls of silica for support in water. They are photosynthetic, so they live in the upper levels of oceans and lakes all over the world. After they die, their hard shells pile up in the sediments at the ocean floor. They are mined for a mineral called diatomaceous earth, the virtues of which we'll talk about later. A popular method for identifying ocean sediments is to radiation-date the shells of the diatoms found in it.
Their forms are all over the place. They range from the simple, like disks and cubes, to crazy bucky-ball type geometric constructions. Some of them have spines, or what look like filtration slits, and others are cylindrical grills. But despite great looks, that's not the most powerful part of these little wonders.
In fact, scientists are planning to use the same methods that diatoms use in order to make nano-scopic components for semiconductors, flatscreen TVs, and batteries. And diatoms have been used for years anyway. Diatomaceous earth, composed of crushed diatom skeletons, is an additive to animal food which takes advantage of the tiny sharp edges to kill digestive tract worms and parasites without chemicals. Filters made from the shells are so fine that they can filter yeast and bacterial cells. These tiny guys are even used as a barometer for water quality.
So, lets recap: Form, Function, and Freaking amazing. If you've got a project, maybe looking to these guys for inspiration is the way to go.
For more info, check out the California Academy of Sciences site, and University of Michigan's database.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team