While this story isn’t technically about a strange creature currently unknown to science, it IS about a creature we know intimately and love, doing strange things. Ourselves. We seem to be evolving, learning from nature, and creating neat things for ourselves, in this case, to drink. Hang on for the ride while I try to explain this one!
Apparently there is a field of study called biomimetics. The dictionary says: biomimetics is “the study and development of synthetic systems that mimic the formation, function, or structure of biologically produced substances and materials and biological mechanisms and processes.”
In other words, scientists study principles in nature and see if they can use them in other applications that might be really useful for us.
Recently John Bush, a math professor at MIT, and Jose Andres, a Spanish chef of note, teamed up to create something scrumptious based on some mechanical aspects found in nature. First up, cocktails.
Their first try was to develop a tiny boat that sits on the surface of a cocktail and motors around for a couple minutes. Graduate students in mechanical engineering, Lisa Burton and Nadia Cheng, were charged with creating the tiny boats. They created a mold using a 3-D printer. Then they filled the mold with things like gelatin and melted candies – in other words, edible materials.
The scientists then filled the tiny boats with alcohol and placed each one in a cocktail. This is how they describe what happened next: In the rear of the tiny boat there is a little notch through which the alcohol in the boat could escape onto the surface of the cocktail. They say this action reduces the surface tension of the liquid and propels the boat forward.
The model used for this experiment comes from nature via insects. Apparently when some of them fall into water, they excrete a chemical that also reduces the surface tension of, in their case, the water, and the action propels them towards shore.
By the way, the size of each tiny cocktail boat is about the size of a raisin.
The next experiment involved making tiny flowers on a 3-D printer. These little flowers measured about 35 mm long (1.3 inches) and were described as resembling a dandelion.
The idea was to place the flower in a cocktail, lift it back out and sip the droplet of liquid that it had captured at its tip. Professor Bush said, “By pulling this out of liquid, you get something that seals shut and looks like a cherry. Touch it to your lips, and it releases its fluid. It turns out to be an elegant way to serve a small volume of palate-cleansing liquor between courses.” I also think star-crossed sweethearts would love to feed each other droplets of lovely liqueurs using this method. Very romantic.
Anyway, what inspired this design? The mechanics of a water lily, except that the development team turned the concept upside down. When a water lily is submerged, it closes its petals to keep water out of the flower. But with the cocktail flower, a longish pipette under the flower “grabs onto” some liquid that can be lifted from the cocktail and sipped.
Scientists say the mechanisms of surface tension and hydrostatic force cause this to happen. I’ll take their word for it.
Chef Andres’ management company is going to continue to experiment with these concepts in the hope of broadening their use and creating different flavor combinations.
Scientists teaming up with chefs – strange, but exciting!
Science and Nature in Action
Would you like to see these cocktail enhancers in action? Check out this link for the 47 second video:
Til the next time!