Professor Seidl, how does nature inspire new applications and inventions?
Prof. Seidl: You need a basic biological science education and a thirst for knowledge to know where to look. When I have a particular problem in mind, I must narrow down the natural scope and identify the types of ecosystems and species that might deliver the answer to my problem. You should formulate your research problem as abstractly as possible to tap into other solutions that might not be obvious at first.
Does it happen that someone approaches you and says, "I have a product, but it doesn't work the way I want it to. Please find a solution for me!"
Seidl: Yes, that happens. Bionics can be approached from two directions, and both are equally valid. One option is to work on biological models, research them on your own and then come up with an idea or solution that works. This is the push model. The pull model is different. Here, you meet people who tell you about their technical problems. Then there are two ways to completion: either there is an instant solution, or you need to do more research. Both scenarios can happen, you simply have to find the right counterpart. What’s important is to learn to speak different languages. Here is an example of this: If a health professional hears the word “tissue”, he or she is likely to associate the term with biological tissue. Yet an engineer might think of carbon fabric or a special engineering material. You need to be aware that the same word can have different meanings to different people. This insight will enable you to communicate and express your ideas and thoughts more clearly.
You also focus on 3D research – how helpful was bionics in this setting?
Seidl: The 3D printing process is an amazing tool for bionics. Until now, stock removal and shaping has been the way products were made. It’s the same way the ancient Greeks made their sculptures: they took a big stone and chipped away everything that didn’t look like or was part of the desired result. However, biological systems always grow from the inside out, allowing for entirely different forms and shapes. 3D printing enables us to come closer to reality in terms of biological designs. Today we already have very successful manufacturing methods for bio-inspired systems, including implants and prostheses.
When it comes to bionics, it is vital to distinguish between the mechanism of action and "evolutionary heritage". Living creatures cannot simply buy the material they like; they have to make do with what genetics allows them to do. And the latter is tasked with creating the best structure. This is the main difference between genetics and technology, where material dominates over structure. Since it can refer to the same design principles, bionics makes medical technology products more compatible. Examples include flexibility or multifunctionality.