Scientists Say: Bionic

This bio-inspired technology combines nature’s best ideas with synthetic machinery

a silver robotic hand with its finger open

This brain-controlled prosthesis restores abilities to people who have lost a hand.

Courtesy of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL)

Bionic (adjective, “By-AHN-ick”)

The word “bionic” describes technology is either inspired by nature or works with a mix of biological and synthetic parts.

Imagine a person who’s lost a hand getting a high-tech prosthetic, or artificial, hand. This prosthesis comes with sensory pads that can link to the person’s nervous system. That allows the person to feel things through their artificial hand. That’s an example of a bionic device. Bionic prostheses may allow a person without arms to grab a cup of cocoa. Or they may help a person without legs to go for a walk.

Bionic implants are another example of devices that combine biological and artificial parts. Bionic implants that connect to the brain can help treat disease and repair injuries. Some such devices allow people to carry out tasks with their thoughts. Brain implants have granted people who were paralyzed the ability type on a computer.

Bionic technology can also improve upon nature. One team of scientists altered living plants to make them glow in the dark. Their goal: Build city lighting tech that works in harmony with nature. The team achieved this by adding tiny particles to the plant’s cells. These nanoparticles used the tree’s energy to generate light.

Bio-inspired inventions also are considered bionic. Take Velcro, for instance. This two-sided material sticks together using a hook-and-loop design inspired by seed pods that cling to clothing. Artificial intelligence, or AI, is another example of bio-inspired tech. AI scientists often model AI systems based on how the human brain works.

In a sentence

Scientists used tiny nets of carbon atoms and a 3-D printer to create bionic, electricity-generating mushrooms.

Check out the full list of Scientists Say.

Katie Grace Carpenter is a science writer and curriculum developer, with degrees in biology and biogeochemistry. She also writes science fiction and creates science videos. Katie lives in the U.S. but also spends time in Sweden with her husband, who’s a chef.

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