The Flowers are Listening: Machines Inspired by Nature

(This is the sixth in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. In this article, 12th grade student Alena reflects on building machines inspired by God’s incredible design found in His natural creation.)

Watch what you say because the flowers are listening.

Sounds like Alice in Wonderland, right? Okay, so maybe the flowers can’t listen to your conversation, but they do “listen.” Sound is so fundamental—birds, wind, the waves at the beach, cars driving by—that relying on it is essential to survival.

Researcher Lilach Hadany posed the question: what if flowers had this same necessary survival instinct? She concluded that they do and that they also respond to the sounds around them. Hadany and her team studied evening primroses (pictured) and discovered that when these flowers sense vibrations from bees’ wings they temporarily increase the concentration of sugar in their nectar. They concluded that it would be too much for the flower to produce this amount of sugar in the nectar at all times, so they respond to vibrations to know when to produce “the good stuff”.

Now picture this: twenty-four engineering students, sitting outside in the sun, 100% sure they had no idea about what today’s lesson will be. Then, Mr. Meadth hands out giant sticky notes. Confusion. Suddenly, Davis knows what’s going on (he’s been keeping up with recent science). Articles are handed out, read, and reread. It all makes sense now.

The engineering students are split into teams of two and asked to design a machine that can do the same things this flower can. The lesson of the day was all about how many machines today are based on nature, and how we can gain inspiration from looking at God’s creation around us. As the students started designing their own flower, they realized how complex the components would have to be.

Take a minute, and think of what you would need. Done? Cool. You may continue.

Let’s start at the top and work our way down. To replicate the “receiver” of the vibrations, you would need to replicate the petals. They were so precise that if you removed even one petal, the flowers didn’t respond to vibrations at all. You would also need a place for the sugar to be distributed from, as well as a computer to know how and when to change the sugar content, and by how much. You would need something connecting all of the sensors, the computer, the sugar center, and the power. There are so many components that we probably don’t even come close to listing them all here.

To replicate this phenomenon of nature in a machine is so complicated and precise, that it would take months or years to get even close to what nature can do. As we look at this flower as a microscopic portion of God’s creation and it’s vast complexity, we should step back and remember that we are His creation too, and we should find the goodness in everything.

(Find the full article on this amazing discovery here at National Geographic’s website.)
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