Expert Report

Inspired by Biology: From Molecules to Materials to Machines (2008)

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Now is an exciting time at the crossroads of biology, physics, and materials science and engineering. New ways of measuring, manipulating, and computing properties of biological systems are finally uncovering the principles that govern biological systems. Three general approaches to the creation of new materials and systems are identified and described by the committee: biomimicry, bioinspiration, and bioderivation. Science opportunities are described in two general classes: basic research toward understanding biomolecular processes and creating advanced functional materials. Promising experimental and computation tools for advancing biomolecular research are also described. The committee provides five recommendations to confront the scientific challenges described in the report and to translate the resulting knowledge into societal and economic value.

Key Messages

  • Communication between scientists and engineers from different disciplines is hampered by difficulties in understanding methods, concepts, and jargon. Mechanisms that facilitate communication across and between disciplines are essential.
  • Fundamental research is necessary to realize the applications envisaged in this report and could lead to yet-unimagined technological applications, but the translation of new discoveries into useful products is also crucial. Thus both fundamental and applied research should be carried out.
  • National facilities that house clusters of moderately sophisticated instrumentation and individuals with the associated expertise are important for fostering interdisciplinary research in biomolecular materials and processes.
  • Physicists, chemists, biologists, and engineers need to work together to create new biomaterials and technologies. Educating scientists and engineers so they can work at the intersection of these fields is crucial.