Scientists who invent things often look to nature for inspiration. Their goal is to mimic biological systems in order to create new consumer products, or improve existing ones. The 1941 introduction of Velcro, for example, grew out of a Swiss engineer’s curiosity about why Burdock seeds clung to his coat — and that of his dog — when they were walking through the woods. Today, responding to the growing urgency of climate change, researchers are turning to biology for ideas to reduce emissions and save energy.
Cordt Zollfrank, a chemist, forest scientist and materials researcher at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), thinks he’s found one potential source that could turn energy-sapping buildings into energy-saving ones: tree cones.
Cones produced by such trees as pines, spruce, hemlock, and fir respond naturally to different degrees of humidity by opening and closing, without consuming any electrical energy in doing so. Designing window blinds based on their mechanical properties that could open and close in response to moisture — but use no energy in the process — could conserve a lot of energy. Many buildings (as well as homes) use motorized blinds or shades that run on plug-in electricity or batteries.