The book of the mimicry of the living

Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature


Biomimicry is now main stream. Richard Hammond started his new science showcase series on Monday night, and possibly in honour of its topic almost mimics the formula that made Top Gear so popular.

That is THE lightbulb btw

An hour split into easy bite size sections focussing on one car… sorry, I mean animal. Each section containing a simple introduction of its key characteristics (body form, top speed, handling, environmental adaptations, engine size…) and then goes on to focus on the further application of this characteristic to human usage in the tried and true method of ‘as big and ridiculous as possible’. Cue dropping light bulbs from space.

No lie. That was actually how they tested woodpecker inspired impact insulation. A few other reviews I’ve read suggested that this was mindless show boating, and there may have been an element of that, but why is that a bad thing? 5 years ago it made an entire generation take notice of Top Gear again AND launched a Reliant into space.

I recently read an article describing the difficulty of inspiring young people to pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). It describes 2 videos promoting a STEM career, but goes on to make a very important point. To be motivated emough to pursue a career in research, you can’t sufficiently convince them with ‘cool’. The effort and resultant pay isn’t enough to compete with a career ‘in practice’ with an engineering firm.

In order to pursue research you need sufficient inspiration. For the astrophysicist who wrote the article that came, very understandably, in the form of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. It wasn’t ‘high science’ in the academic form. It was fantastic in the literal sense of the word. It also posed just as many questions as it answered, which was its greatest attribute.

Rumours indicate that Top Gear will race Carl Sagan’s Spaceship of the Imagination against Jeremy Clarkson’s Ego in series 19

This is something biomimicry needs. Biomimicry has given us Gecko inspired adhesives, efficient computers, faster swimsuits, and new methods of fog harvesting. That’s interesting to a specialist. That’s not great TV. Hammond has taken this as a challenge, and all power to him. It may be slightly simplistic in science and bombastic in approach, but that is what is required to put biomimicry on the map to the wider world. To the policy makers, the investors, the politicians and John Q. Public. Most importantly though he takes the core of biomimicry and imbues it with an inherent curiosity: ‘Can we make this massive?’, and for the next 10 minutes some impressionable youth just wonders at how cool nature really is, and quietly answers:

Yes we can.

P.S. Ok, so they didn’t actually manage to launch the Reliant, but, y’know, spoilers…



Author: DaveParr

Data Science, Environmental Science, Making and Music

3 thoughts on “Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature

  1. Richard Hammond doesn’t have that lyrical turn of phrase of Sagan though.
    Expolsions are probably more popular though.

    maybe we need a ‘make me a superhero’ tv series?

    • Very few people can turn a phrase the way Sagan did. But Hammond does have a way of taking something that can be tedious and boring and turn it into something interesting and fun. This is what science needs more of. More power to him.

  2. Pingback: The Scientific Argument for Scientific Argument 2 | The Biomimicron

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