Bombarded by Design

Bombarded by Design

“Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” — Richard Dawkins, atheist biologist, in The Blind Watchmaker

“Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.” — Francis Crick, atheist biochemist, in What Mad Pursuit

“The evidence for design is overwhelming.” — Paul Davies, agnostic astronomer, in The Cosmic Blueprint

In light of such statements, it is not a stretch to claim that scientific evidence supports the idea of design in nature. The real argument is not over the presence of design but over the source of this design. Is it the random process of mutation and natural selection, or the work of an Intelligent Designer?

I find it remarkable how often the creativity we find in nature is similar to human design—albeit, nature’s are usually more exquisite, optimal, or efficient. (See this example from nanotechnology in a previous report.)

Andy McIntosh and Novid Beheshti provide us with yet another example in biology through a study initiated several years ago at Leeds University in the UK and reported in the April 2008 issue of Physics World. The bombardier beetle is an insect commonly found in Africa, Asia, and parts of the U.S. This amazing bug can fire a powerful jet of hot, toxic fluid with pinpoint accuracy and variable droplet size in any direction up to 20 cm in distance to fight off various predators such as spiders, ants, birds, or frogs.

The bombardier beetle creates the fluid from two chemicals, hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide, that it stores in its abdomen in a pair of combustion chambers. When threatened, it mixes the two chemicals to create a toxic mixture, which includes benzoquinone and water heated above boiling point. It then powerfully ejects the weapon toward its target.

In their study, McIntosh and Beheshti managed to replicate the process used by the beetle. They performed a series of experiments firing pulses of hot water up to distances of four meters, at the same time controlling the size of the droplets in the spray. The study was motivated by the possible applications of this technology. It could influence such things as drug delivery devices like inhalers, or the fuel injectors used in automobile engines, or the nozzles used in fire extinguishers.

Once again, nature provides inspiration for human technology. The bombardier beetle’s exquisite defense mechanism surely invigorates William Paley’s argument for the source of design in nature being a “Watchmaker” rather than random chance!