From: LARRY KLAES (ljk4_at_msn.com)
Date: Fri Mar 21 2008 - 20:47:48 PDT
Local scientists take their cues from the ultimate guide
March 21, 2008
..."If you want to look for things to be done in a better way, you've got to
look for who's the best teacher, who's done it best," said Jay Harman, a
scientist and entrepreneur. "Well, nature's done it best: untold experiments
with an open research budget....
Finding better ways to solve human problems has been Harman's lifework, and
is inextricably tied to his lifelong obsession: whirlpools....
The whirlpool turns out to be the path of least resistance, and its shape, a
specific type of spiral, can be found in tornadoes, puffs of smoke, lilies,
eyelashes, pinecones, the hollow of a wave, abalone shells, even in the
of our solar system....
Because it is based on the geometry of whirlpools, Harman's work is tied to
something known as the divine proportion, or golden ratio....
[A]sk UC BERKELEY PROFESSOR ROBERT FULL about divine proportion and he'll
you yes, he's heard of it, but he prefers its other name, the golden ratio,
because "the divine proportion" makes it sound mystical, not mathematical.
also tell you the golden ratio is one example of "similarity theory," or the
of ratios to explain or predict the function of organisms - a very important
aspect of his work.
Step into Full's lab on the fifth floor of the Valley Life Sciences Building
UC Berkeley and you might feel more as if you're in the Sharper Image.
insects line a shelf high above his desk. On the desk is a crude version of
RHex, a low, rectangular robot with six circular legs that can sprint across
uneven surfaces with amazing stability. On the walls are pictures of other
insectlike robots Full and his team have designed, in addition to posters of
characters from the animated movie "Ants," for which Pixar borrowed from
knowledge of insect locomotion.
The first thing Dr. Full will tell you about his work is, "It's really,
fun." A gregarious man with a mat of frosty white hair, Full sometimes gets
excited about his research that his face goes red and his words come out at
light speed. FULL IS HEAD OF BERKELEY'S POLY-PEDAL LAB, where close study of
locomotion of cockroaches, centipedes and geckos has led to a number of
discoveries over the past few years, all which have been applied to the
construction of groundbreaking robots that can do such things as climb
navigate rough surfaces at high velocity or re-equilibrate themselves after
being knocked off balance....
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