Spider web inspired bird-safe glass – In the news

Madison H, Mount St. Joseph Girls' College

 

We’ve all heard the disheartening thud of an innocent bird unsuspectingly crashing hard and fast into a glass window. It’d be assuring to know that it wouldn't happen again and that the bird would, hopefully, be okay. However, in most cases this isn't the case. The glass structures and windows that dominate our modern world cause the death of hundreds of millions of birds worldwide. The birds see either their own reflection or the reflections of trees, other plants, or the sky, which seems to them like open space, causing them to fly directly towards it at full speed.

In the natural environment, birds don’t face the danger of glass windows but they do have to be aware of other obstacles, including spider webs. Orb weaver spider’s have adapted the way they produce their web to serve two purposes; to attract and capture small prey and also to protect themselves from birds destroying their handiwork. The spiders produce and use a special kind of silk for their webs that reflects ultraviolet rays, making them clearly visible to birds. The UV rays are easily recognisable as a warning to stay away and reduces the chance the bird will collide with the web and destroy the spider’s ability to capture prey.

A German engineering company called Arnold Glas have ingeniously reproduced the effectiveness of the silk webs into the production of special ‘bird-safe’ glass, called Ornilux. The glass looks smooth and clear to us but actually possesses a unique, invisible characteristic that allows birds to see the obstacle in front of them and hopefully avoid a collision. The glass is glazed with a pattern that mimics a spider’s web and is made of an ultraviolet-reflective coating only visible to birds. This is because they are capable of seeing a broader UV spectrum than humans.

Dr. Hans-Willy Ley from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology conducted an experiment that tested the effectiveness of the glass in avoiding bird-window collisions. The results showed that an overwhelming 76% of birds managed to recognise and avoid the glass laced with ultraviolet-reflective patterns. This shows that the use of Ornilux glass in architecture will help birds get the warning and protection they need to stay safe while we still get the smooth, clear glass windows we want.

I believe the innovation of the Ornilux bird protection glass is extremely important, especially in the relationship between humans and nature. It makes an incredible effort to improve the safety of birds, helping to ensure we look after and protect those who can’t do so themselves, especially in a world so hugely dominated by humans. In this case of extraordinary biomimicry engineering, it’s interesting to see how a simple spider’s web has paved the way for improving the safety of birds in flight.

 

References:

Bloomberg. (2017) 14 Smart Inventions Inspired by Nature: Biomimicry. Retrieved 19 June, 2017 from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/photo-essays/2015-02-23/14-smart-inventions-inspired-by-nature-biomimicry

S.J. Quinney College of Law. (2014) A Better Building: Biomimicry Glass Working with Nature to Reduce Bird-Window Collisions. Retrieved 19 June, 2017 from  https://www.law.utah.edu/a-better-building-biomimicry-glass-working-with-nature-to-reduce-bird-window-collisions/

AskNature. (2016) Insulated glass reduces bird collisions. Retrieved 19 June, 2017 from https://asknature.org/idea/ornilux/#.WUezLxOGPZp

PHYS.ORG (2010) Bird-friendly glass looks like spider web to birds. Retrieved 19 June, 2017 from https://phys.org/news/2010-08-bird-friendly-glass-spider-web-birds.html

ORNILUX. (2017) Bird Protection Glass. Retrieved 19 June, 2017 from http://ornilux.com/

 

The article above is one of the winning entries of GTAC's Biomimicry Blog competition. The competition challenged Victorian students to submit a blog article detailing an example of scientific and mathematical advances that were inspired by nature.