Bionics by definition combines science and technology, with nature acting as a
model for technical applications. Bionics is expected to lead to a better
understanding of the Nature of Science (NOS). We applied a hands-on
inquiry-based module about bionics with sixth graders during a public bionics
exhibition in a zoological garden that allowed students to act as researchers,
i.e., to understand the problem-solving process and to search for methods to
overcome problems. The practice of science and engineering was at the center
of this intervention; for example, students were asked to provide explanations
and design solutions in the bionics field (NGSS, 2017). From this complex
field we showed examples using living animals in the zoo. Our students
learned bionics topics directly on the living animal by transferring them later
to bionics topics. The streamlined shape of the dolphin snout, the
communication system of dolphins, and other examples, each with its
technical and bionics application, were examined. Bionics can serve as a
complement to other biology topics. An increase in cognitive knowledge was
observed both immediately after intervention and after a complete school
year. Male participants showed more interest in technology than females.
Key Words: bionics; technology; outreach education; zoological garden; exhibition.
Bionics combines biology and technology to
solve technological problems by using nature
as a model to apply to human-made solutions
(Nachtigall & Wisser, 2013).
One of the most famous bionics examples is the so-called lotus effect, where
plants can keep surfaces absolutely dirt-free
even when growing in dirty water: a self-cleaning mechanism using wax-coated surfaces prevents the adhesion of dirt particles
in water drops rolling down plant surfaces
(Barthlott & Neinhuis, 1997). That nature-inspired discovery has
been applied in some para-bionics products (Barthlott et al., 2016).
Another example is the fin ray effect in fish tail fins: the structure
of these fins is special in that they do not bend away when you press
against the fin; rather, the fin bends toward the pressure and so
could adapt optimally on the water (Freier, 2014). The arrangement
and composition of the rays have recently been adopted in robotic
picker arms, because of the structure and the optimal adaption to
sensitive objects like eggs (Bannasch & Kniese, 2012). The fin ray
effect is an adaption to living in water and could be used in teaching the general biology of fish or even the morphology of fish
A further example is the shark skin effect, adapted in aircraft
riblets to substantially reduce air flow resistance (Bechert et al.,
1997). The parallel ridges on the longitudinal body of a shark,
and on an aircraft, also reduce drag (Oeffner & Lauder, 2012).
The principle of reducing drag has many examples in bionics;
many animals like dolphins, fish, or sharks have methods to reduce
drag (Campbell et al., 2016). This principle is also often transferred
to technology applications like in cars, aircrafts, or swimming suits
(Dean & Bhushan, 2010).
The teaching of evolution could also include bionics: the
homologous development of mammal’s extremities is observable
in different aquatic animals, whereas the analogous development
of extremities, for example, could be seen as a
bionics challenge, as different solutions for similar problems exist (Campbell et al., 2016). Animal morphology and the adaption of animals
could be connected with bionics. Another example for adaption is the different skin types of
aquatic animals; fish, birds, reptiles, and nearly
all other animate beings found solutions to adapt
to living in the water (Campbell et al., 2016).
Phenomena of nature have inspired technicians to adjust or improve technology applications by adapting effects in the technological world. Nature has
always found solutions for its problems and so can be seen as a
learning with hands-
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 80, No. 6, pp. 429–435, ISSN 0002-7685, electronic ISSN 1938-4211. © 2018 National Association of Biology Teachers. All rights
reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page,
www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p=reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2018.80.6.429.
BIONICS: An Out-of-School Day at
• MICHAELA MARTH, FRANZ X. BOGNER