Constructal Theory: Introduction to the Inverse of Biomimicry

A new theory, and possibly a new law of physics, Constructal theory can be understood as the inverse of biomimicry. Instead of looking to nature or biology to guide design, constructal theory starts from the understanding of the simple constructal law and extrapolates out a series of structures or designs for that situation. Amazingly, this new law of physics has been shown to describe the evolution of architecture found in nature. Let that sink in. A theory from the field of thermodynamics describes why a leaf looks like a leaf why a river looks like a river and much more.

Constructal theory not only enables scientists to better understand why Nature looks the way it does, but may give us insight into how we can shape our technology for a sustainable future. This Treehugger exclusive series will help our readers understand the exciting new discovery, and why it matters. To begin- The Constructal Law:


"For a flow system to persist in time (to survive) it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier and easier access to the currents that flow through it". -Adrian Bejan
Biomimetics, Biomimicry, or bio-inspiration, has been around as long as humans. It's incredible to look at nature and discover such complex and efficient designs. Biological organisms have evolved non-intuitive structures that fit perfectly with their environment. Biomimicry has proven to be a powerful tool when it comes to thinking about systems design, or even specific engineering feats like flight, or Velcro. Through biomimetics we can harness millions of years of trial and error from biological evolution. But what has guided those forms?

The theory of evolution is one of the most supported hypotheses in all of science. Indeed its explanatory and predictive power has made it the cornerstone of biology. Constructal theory goes further than the theory of evolution. Breaking the traditional boundaries between biology, physics, geology, and social sciences it describes how flow systems change through time. Biological organisms are flow systems. River basins are flow systems. Trees are a flow system. New York City is a flow system. Constructal theory says that for any of these flow systems to persist, to sustain, or survive, they must be structured (architecturally designed) in such a way that the things within that system increasingly get to where they need to go. This gives shape and structure to everything that evolves over time. Below is a concept drawing of how constructal theory evolves the concept of a branched structure into lung. Underneath the drawing are photographs of a lung and a river basin. One is biological, one is geological, and they operate on vastly different scales, but both utilize the same principle and have 'evolved' a similar architecture to solve a similar problem.

The lung needs to get air efficiently from one entry point to a volume. The upper river basin needs to get water from a volume to one exit point. Constructal theory has been shown to predict both structures.

This discipline spanning theory has been around for over ten years, and has been rapidly gaining attention in scientific circles. For those who can't wait, the constructal theory website has more research and background on the theory. The book, "Shape and Structure, From Engineering to Nature' by Adrian Bejan the founder of the idea, also provides an in-depth look at the science. Further exclusive in-depth posts will follow in the next few weeks. In the mean time, please feel free to ask questions, give ideas, or comment on the idea itself.

Constructal Theory: Introduction to the Inverse of Biomimicry

Constructal Theory: Sustainability
Constructal Theory: The Science
Constructal Theory: The Applications

Images used with permission from author::Constructal Theory Web Portal::Shape and Structure, From Engineering to Nature

Tags: Biomimicry | Constructal Theory