Currently, many scientists are studying the structure of natural materials and using them as models in their own research, simply because these structures possess such sought-after properties as strength, lightness and elasticity. For example, the inner shell of the abalone is twice as resistant as the ceramics that even advanced technology can produce. Spider silk is five times stronger than steel, and the adhesive that mussels use to moor themselves to rocks maintains its properties even underwater. 16
Gulgun Akbaba, a member of the Turkish Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology) Magazine research and publication group, speaks of the superior characteristics of natural materials and the ways in which we can make use of them:
Traditional ceramic and glass materials have become unable to adapt to technology, which improves almost with every passing day. Scientists are [now] working to fill this gap. The architectural secrets in the structures in nature have slowly begun to be revealed… In the same way that a mussel shell can repair itself or a wounded shark can repair damage to its skin, the materials used in technology will also be able to renew themselves.
These materials which are harder, stronger, more resistant and have superior physical, mechanical, chemical and electromagnetic properties, possess lightness and the ability to withstand high temperatures required by such vehicles as rockets, space shuttles, and research satellites when leaving and entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Work on the giant supersonic passenger carriers planned for intercontinental travel also requires light, heat-resistant materials. In medicine, the production of artificial bone requires materials that combine spongy appearance with hard structure, and tissue as close as possible to that found in nature. 17
To produce ceramic, used for a wide range of purposes from construction to electrical equipment, temperatures greater than 1,000-1,500 oC (1,830-2,730oF) are generally needed.
Several ceramic materials exist in nature, yet such high temperatures are never used to create them. A mussel, for instance, secretes its shell in a perfect manner at only 4oC (39oF). This example of nature’s superior creation drew the attention of Turkish scientist Ilhan Aksay, who turned his thoughts to wondering how we might produce better, stronger, useful and functional ceramics.
Examining the internal structures of the shells of a number of sea creatures, Aksay noticed the extraordinary properties of abalone shells. Magnified 300,000 times with an electron microscope, the shell resembled a brick wall, with calcium carbonate “bricks” alternating with a protein “mortar.” Despite calcium carbonate’s essentially brittle nature, the shell was extremely strong due to its laminated structure and less brittle than man-made ceramics. Aksay found that its lamination helps keep cracks from propagating, in roughly the same way that a braided rope doesn’t fail when one single strand breaks. 18
Abalone shell consists of microscopic bricks in a layered structure that prevents any cracks in the shell from spreading.
Inspired by such models, Aksay developed some very hard, resistant ceramic-metal composites. After being tested in various US Army laboratories, a boron-carbide/aluminum composite he helped develop was used as armor plating for tanks! 19
In order to produce biomimetic materials, today’s scientists are carrying out research at the microscopic level. As one example, Professor Aksay points out that the bioceramic-type materials in bones and teeth are formed at body temperature with a combination of organic materials such as proteins, and yet possess properties much superior to those of man-made ceramics. Encouraged by Aksay’s thesis that natural materials’ superior properties stem from connections at the nanometric level (one-millionth of a millimeter), many companies aiming to produce micro-tools at these dimensions have embarked on bio-inspired materials—that is, artificial substances inspired by biological ones. 20
All too many industrial products and byproducts, produced under conditions of high pressures and temperatures, contain harmful chemicals. Yet nature produces similar substances under what might be described as “life-friendly” conditions—in water-based solutions, for example, and at room temperature. This represents a distinct advantage for consumers and scientists alike. 21
Producers of synthetic diamonds, designers of metal alloys, polymer scientists, fiber optic experts, producers of fine ceramic and developers of semi-conductors all find applying biomimetic methods to be the most practical. Natural materials, which can respond to all their needs, also display enormous variety. Therefore, research experts in various fields—from bullet-proof vests to jet engines—imitate the originals found in nature, replicating their superior properties by artificial means.
Coral rivals the mussel shell’s mother-of-pearl in terms of solidity. Using the calcium salts from seawater, coral forms a hard structure capable of slicing through even steel ships’ hulls.
Man-made materials eventually crack and shatter. This requires replacement or repairs, carried out with adhesives, for instance. But some materials in nature, such as the mussel’s shell, can be repaired by the original organisms. Recently, in imitation, scientists have begun development of substances such as polymers and polycyclates, which can renew themselves. 22 In the search to develop strong, self-renewing bio-inspired materials, one natural substance taken as a model is rhinoceros horn. In the 21st century, such research will form the basis of material science studies.
The U.S. Army subjected the substance inspired by the abalone to various tests and later used it as armor on tanks.
A great many substances in nature possess features that can be used as models for modern inventions. On a gram-for-gram basis, for example, bone is much stronger than iron.
Most of the materials in nature consist of composites. Composites are solid materials that result when two or more substances are combined to form a new substance possessing properties that are superior to those of the original ingredients. 23
The artificial composite known as fiberglass, for instance, is used in boat hulls, fishing rods, and sports-equipment materials such as bows and arrows. Fiberglass is created by mixing fine glass fibers with a jelly-like plastic called polymer. As the polymer hardens, the composite substance that emerges is light, strong and flexible. Altering the fibers or plastic substance used in the mixture also changes the composite’s properties. 24
|Thanks to their superior properties, light composite materials are used in a wide number of purposes, from space technology to sports equipment.
Composites consisting of graphite and carbon fibers are among the ten best engineering discoveries of the last 25 years. With these, light-structured composite materials are designed for new planes, space shuttle parts, sports equipment, Formula-1 racing cars and yachts, and new discoveries are quickly being made. Yet so far, manmade composites are much more primitive and frail than those occurring naturally.
Like all the extraordinary structures, substances and systems in nature, the composites touched on briefly here are each an example of God’s extraordinary art of creation. Many verses of the Qur’an draw attention to the unique nature and perfection of this creation. God reveals the incalculable number blessings imparted to mankind as a result of His incomparable creation:
If you tried to number God’s blessings, you could never count them. God is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur’an, 16: 18)
Fiberglass Technology in Crocodile Skin
The fiberglass technology that began to be used in the 20th century has existed in living things since the day of their creation. A crocodile’s skin, for example, has much the same structure as fiberglass.
Until recently, scientists were baffled as to why crocodile skin was impervious to arrows, knives and sometimes, even bullets. Research came up with surprising results: The substance that gives crocodile skin its special strength is the collagen protein fibers it contains. These fibers have the property of strengthening a tissue when added to it. No doubt collagen didn’t come to possess such detailed characteristics as the result of a long, random process, as evolutionists would have us believe. Rather, it emerged perfect and complete, with all its properties, at the first moment of its creation.
Steel-Cable Technology in Muscles
Another example of natural composites are tendons. These tissues, which connect muscles to the bones, have a very firm yet pliant structure, thanks to the collagen-based fibers that make them up. Another feature of tendons is the way their fibers are woven together.
Ms. Benyus is a member of the teaching faculty at America’s Rutgers University. In her book Biomimicry, she states that the tendons in our muscles are constructed according to a very special method and goes on to say:
The tendon in your forearm is a twisted bundle of cables, like the cables used in a suspension bridge. Each individual cable is itself a twisted bundle of thinner cables. Each of these thinner cables is itself a twisted bundle of molecules, which are, of course, twisted, helical bundles of atoms. Again and again a mathematical beauty unfolds, a self-referential, fractal kaleidoscope of engineering brilliance. 25
In fact, the steel-cable technology used in present-day suspension bridges was inspired by the structure of tendons in the human body. The tendons’ incomparable design is only one of the countless proofs of God’s superior design and infinite knowledge.
Multi-Purpose Whale Blubber
A layer of fat covers the bodies of dolphins and whales, serving as a natural flotation mechanism that allows whales to rise to the surface to breathe. At the same time, it protects these warm-blooded mammals from the cold waters of the ocean depths. Another property of whale blubber is that when metabolized, it provides two to three times as much energy as sugar or protein. During a whale’s nonfeeding migration of thousands of kilometers, when it is unable to find sufficient food, it obtains the needed energy from this fat in its body.
Alongside this, whale blubber is a very flexible rubberlike material. Every time it beats its tail in the water, the elastic recoil of blubber is compressed and stretched. This not only provides the whale with extra speed, but also allows a 20% energy saving on long journeys. With all these properties, whale blubber is regarded as a substance with the very widest range of functions.
Whales have had their coating of blubber for thousands of years, yet only recently has it been discovered to consist of a complex mesh of collagen fibers. Scientists are still working to fully understand the functions of this fat-composite mix, but they believe that it is yet another miracle product that would have many useful applications if produced synthetically. 26
Mother-of-Pearl’s Special Damage-Limiting Structure
The nacre structure making up the inner layers of a mollusk shell has been imitated in the development of materials for use in super-tough jet engine blades. Some 95% of the mother-of-pearl consists of chalk, yet thanks to its composite structure it is 3,000 times tougher than bulk chalk. When examined under the microscope, microscopic platelets 8 micrometers across and 0.5 micrometers thick can be seen, arranged in layers (1 micrometer = 10-6 meter). These platelets are composed of a dense and crystalline form of calcium carbonate, yet they can be joined together, thanks to a sticky silk-like protein. 27
This combination provides toughness in two ways. When mother-of-pearl is stressed by a heavy load, any cracks that form begin to spread, but change direction as they attempt to pass through the protein layers. This disperses the force imposed, thus preventing fractures. A second strengthening factor is that whenever a crack does form, the protein layers stretch out into strands across the fracture, absorbing the energy that would permit the cracks to continue. 28
The internal structure of mother-of-pearl resembles a brick wall and consists of platelets held together with organic mortar. Cracks caused by impacts change direction as they attempt to pass through this mortar, which stops them in their tracks. (Julian Vincent, “Tricks of Nature,” New Scientist, 40.)
The structure that reduces damage to mother-of-pearl has become a subject of study by a great many scientists. That the resistance in nature’s materials is based on such logical, rational methods doubtlessly indicates the presence of a superior intelligence. As this example shows, God clearly reveals evidence of His existence and the superior might and power of His creation by means of His infinite knowledge and wisdom. As He states in one verse:
Everything in the heavens and everything in the earth belongs to Him. God is the Rich Beyond Need, the Praiseworthy. (Qur’an, 22: 64)
The Hardness of Wood Is Hidden in Its Design
In contrast to the substances in other living things, vegetable composites consist more of cellulose fibers than collagen. Wood’s hard, resistant structure derives from producing this cellulose—a hard material that is not soluble in water. This property of cellulose makes wood so versatile in construction. Thanks to cellulose, timber structures keep standing for hundreds of years. Described as tension-bearing and matchless, cellulose is used much more extensively than other building materials in buildings, bridges, furniture and any number of items.
Because wood absorbs the energy from low-velocity impacts, it’s highly effective at restricting damage to one specific location. In particular, damage is reduced the most when the impact occurs at right angles to the direction of the grain. Diagnostic research has shown that different types of wood exhibit different levels of resistance. One of the factors is density, since denser woods absorb more energy during impact. The number of vessels in the wood, their size and distribution, are also important factors in reducing impact deformation. 29
The Second World War's Mosquito aircraft, which so far have shown the greatest tolerance to damage, were made by gluing dense plywood layers between lighter strips of balsa wood. The hardness of wood makes it a most reliable material. When it does break, the cracking takes place so slowly that one can watch it happen with the naked eye, thus giving time to take precautions. 30
Above left: Wood consists of tube-like fibers which give wood its resistant properties.
Above right:Wood’s raw material, known as cellulose, possesses a complicated chemical structure. If the chemical bonds or atoms comprising cellulose were different, then wood wouldn’t be so strong and flexible.
Left: A structure modeled on wood for the making of bullet-proof clothing. If wood had a different structure, it could not possess such resilient hardness.
1. Carefully placed fibers to imitate the spiral winding of the tube walls in wood.
2. Resin reinforced with glass fibers.
3. Corrugated layer between flat plates.
4. Layers arranged to imitate the tube structure of wood.
These materials, modeled on the structure of wood, are believed to be sufficiently strong to be used in bullet-proof vests. (Julian Vincent, “Tricks of Nature,” New Scientist, 40.)
Wood consists of parallel columns of long, hollow cells placed end to end, and surrounded by spirals of cellulose fibers. Moreover, these cells are enclosed in a complex polymer structure made of resin. Wound in a spiral, these layers form 80% of the total thickness of the cell wall and, together, bear the main weight. When a wood cell collapses in on itself, it absorbs the energy of impact by breaking away from the surrounding cells. Even if the crack runs between the fibers, still the wood is not deformed. Broken wood is nevertheless strong enough to support a significant load.
Material made by imitating wood’s design is 50 times more durable than other synthetic materials in use today. 31 Wood is currently imitated in materials being developed for protection against high-velocity particles, such as shrapnel from bombs or bullets.
As these few examples show, natural substances possess a most intelligent design. The structures and resistance of mother-of-pearl and wood are no coincidence. There is evident, conscious design in these materials. Every detail of their flawless design—from the fineness of the layers to their density and the number of vessels—has been carefully planned and created to bring about resistance. In one verse, God reveals that He has created everything around us:
What is in the heavens and in the earth belongs to God. God encompasses all things. (Qur’an, 4: 126)
Spider Silk Is Stronger Than Steel
A great many insects—moths and butterflies, for example—produce silk, although there are considerable differences between these substances and spider silk.
According to scientists, spider thread is one of the strongest materials known. If we set down all of a spider web’s characteristics, the resulting list will be a very long one. Yet even just a few examples of the properties of spider silk are enough to make the point: 32
- The silk thread spun by spiders, measuring just one-thousandth of a millimeter across, is five times stronger than steel of the same thickness.
- It can stretch up to four times its own length.
- It is also so light that enough thread to stretch clear around the planet would weigh only 320 grams.
These individual characteristics may be found in various other materials, but it is a most exceptional situation for them all to come together at once. It’s not easy to find a material that’s both strong and elastic. Strong steel cable, for instance, is not as elastic as rubber and can deform over time. And while rubber cables don’t easily deform, they aren’t strong enough to bear heavy loads.
How can the thread spun by such a tiny creature have properties vastly superior to rubber and steel, product of centuries of accumulated human knowledge?
Spider silk, possessing an exceedingly complex structure, is but one example of God’s incomparable art and infinite wisdom.
A detailed view of the spigots.
Spider silk’s superiority is hidden in its chemical structure. Its raw material is a protein called keratin, which consists of helical chains of amino acids cross-linked to one another. Keratin is the building block for such widely different natural substances as hair, nails, feathers and skin. In all the substances it comprises, its protective property is especially important. Furthermore, that keratin consists of amino acids bound by loose hydrogen links makes it very elastic, as described in the American magazine Science News: “On the human scale, a web resembling a fishing net could catch a passenger plane.” 33
To catch their prey, spiders construct exceedingly high-quality webs that stop a fly moving through the air by absorbing its energy. The taut cable used on aircraft carriers to halt jets when they land resembles the system that spiders employ. Operating in exactly the same way as the spider’s web, these cables halt a jet weighing several tons, moving at 250 kmph, by absorbing its kinetic energy.
On the underside of the tip of the spider's abdomen are three pairs of spinnerets. Each of these spinnerets is studded with many hairlike tubes called spigots. The spigots lead to silk glands inside the abdomen, each of which produces a different type of silk. As a result of the harmony between them, a variety of silk threads are produced. Inside the spider’s body, pumps, valves and pressure systems with exceptionally developed properties are employed during the production of the raw silk, which is then drawn out through the spigots. 34
Most importantly, the spider can alter the pressure in the spigots at will, which also changes the structure of molecules making up the liquid keratin. The valves’ control mechanism, the diameter, resistance and elasticity of the thread can all be altered, thus making the thread assume desired characteristics without altering its chemical structure. If deeper changes in the silk are desired, then another gland must be brought into operation. And finally, thanks to the perfect use of its back legs, the spider can put the thread on the desired track.
Once the spider’s chemical miracle can be replicated fully, then a great many useful materials can be produced: safety belts with the requisite elasticity, very strong surgical sutures that leave no scars, and bulletproof fabrics. Moreover, no harmful or poisonous substances need to be used in their production.
Spiders’ silk possesses the most extraordinary properties. On account of its high resistance to tension, ten times more energy is required to break spider silk than other, similar biological materials. 35
As a result, much more energy needs to be expended in order to break a piece of spider silk of the same size as a nylon thread. One main reason why spiders are able to produce such strong silk is that they manage to add assisting compounds with a regular structure by controlling the crystallization and folding of the basic protein compounds. Since the weaving material consists of liquid crystal, spiders expend a minimum of energy while doing this.
This example alone is enough to demonstrate the great wisdom of God, the Creator all things in nature: Spiders produce a thread five times stronger than steel. Kevlar, the product of our most advanced technology, is made at high temperatures, using petroleum-derived materials and sulfuric acid. The energy this process requires is very high, and its byproducts are exceedingly toxic. Yet from the point of view of strength, Kevlar is much weaker than spider silk. (“Biomimicry,” Your Planet Earth; http://www.yourplanetearth.org/terms/
The thread produced by spiders is much stronger than the known natural or synthetic fibers. But the thread they produce cannot be collected and used directly, as can the silks of many other insects. For that reason, the only current alternative is artificial production.
Researchers are engaged in wide-ranging studies on how spiders produce their silk. Dr. Fritz Vollrath, a zoologist at the university of Aarhus in Denmark, studied the garden spider Araneus diadematus and succeeded in uncovering a large part of the process. He found that spiders harden their silk by acidifying it. In particular, he examined the duct through which the silk passes before exiting the spider's body. Before entering the duct, the silk consists of liquid proteins. In the duct, specialized cells apparently draw water away from the silk proteins. Hydrogen atoms taken from the water are pumped into another part of the duct, creating an acid bath. As the silk proteins make contact with the acid, they fold and form bridges with one another, hardening the silk, which is "stronger and more elastic than Kevlar [. . .] the strongest man-made fiber," as Vollrath puts it. 36
Kevlar, a reinforcing material used in bulletproof vests and tires, and made through advanced technology, is the strongest manmade synthetic. Yet spider thread possesses properties that are far superior to Kevlar. As well as its being very strong, spider silk can also be re-processed and re-used by the spider who spun it.
If scientists manage to replicate the internal processes taking place inside the spider—if protein folding can be made flawless and the weaving material's genetic information added, then it will be possible to industrially produce silk-based threads with a great many special properties. It is therefore thought that if the spider thread weaving process can be understood, the level of success in the manufacture of man-made materials will be improved.
This thread, which scientists are only now joining forces to investigate, has been produced flawlessly by spiders for at least 380 million years. 37 This, no doubt, is one of the proofs of God’s perfect creation. Neither is there any doubt that all of these extraordinary phenomena are under His control, taking place by His will. As one verse states, “There is no creature He does not hold by the forelock” (Qur’an, 11: 56).
The Mechanism for Producing Spider Thread Is Superior to Any Textile Machine
Spiders produce silks with different characteristics for different purposes. Diatematus, for instance, can use its silk glands to produce seven different types of silk—similar to production techniques employed in modern textile machines. Yet those machines’ enormous size can’t be compared with the spider’s few cubic millimeters silk-producing organ. Another superior feature of its silk is the way that the spider can recycle it, able to produce new thread by consuming its damaged web.