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Airdate: Sep 23, 2009
Scientist: Dr. Christopher Viney

KSC Biomimicry - Wasps

KSC Biomimicry - Wasps
Without so much as a diet, wasp waists are incredibly thin; and their structure is inspiring engineers to create a new kind of packaging.

Transcript:
music; ambience buzzing wings

CV: “Some students in a lecture caught a wasp and they said, you know, We know that you work on interesting lessons from nature. Does this wasp have any attribute, any feature, is there anything about this wasp which you might want to learn something from?’”

[sfx buzzing wings]

If you’re an engineering looking for inspiration, no need to look any further than the natural world. Biomimicry refers to the science of studying nature’s best ideas, and then adapting them to solve human problems. Christopher Viney is an engineer at the University of California, in Merced. And he says yes, the wasp did indeed provide some valuable insights.

CV: “It struck me looking at the wasp that the front half and the back half, that they’re joined by this very narrow waist, which, technically, is called a petiole. So, this thin petiole struck me as being rather crucial to the survival of the wasp, because everything that’s important for the wasp in its metabolism, in its ability to digest, in its ability to breathe, all the tubing and the ductwork and the chemistry all passes through this"this very narrow constriction. And so, one has to believe, then, that this little tube is very, very well-built and very, very stiff and strong and well-reinforced. We got a little project together, and we were able to see how it really is reinforced in a very clever way by how the molecules are organized in there, and we came away with an idea on how to make much better packing boxes. You know, cardboard, it’s got ridges in it, and if the ridges are running that way, then it’ll bend really easy this way, but not that way. If you make the cardboard box on the principles that the molecules are organized in wasp waists, then you could have something that wouldn’t bend easily in"in any dimension.”

[sfx buzzing wings]

Christopher Viney is one of the participants in the Kids’ Science Challenge, our nationwide competition for third to sixth graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. A new competition launches October first at kidsciencechallenge.com.

I’m Jim Metzner.