Category: Children's Books

Sigrid Belzer
Die genialsten Erfindungen der Natur - Bionik für Kinder
[Nature’s most ingenious inventions - Bionics for children]

Review

When Sigrid Belzer writes about bionics—at the interface of biology and technology—she knows what she is talking about. With a graduate degree in geology, she also worked at the biotechnology center (BitZ) at the Technical University of Darmstadt. However, she is not only a scientific expert in the field, for years she has also devoted her time to teaching natural sciences to schoolchildren, teachers, and interested lay people. It is this noticeable combination of expertise and education with a passion in the best sense of the word that makes her book Die genialsten Erfindungen der Natur. Bionik für Kinder (Nature’s Most Ingenious Inventions: Bionics for Children) a fascinating read, not only for the main target readership of children and young adults.

By speaking directly to her audience, Sigrid Belzer is able from the outset to infect readers with the fascination with nature that even an authority such as herself still enjoys: “In this book you will read about what airplane builders learned from birds … and why some plants always stay clean.” Readers are highly encouraged to feel a sense of amazement at the wonders of nature and to ask “why” about connections and how the most varied natural phenomena and inventions work.

A clear outline and an abundance of impressive illustrations allows the book, which is distinguished by its concise and clear language, to explain complicated subjects vividly without having to sacrifice the complexity that the subject requires. In the introductory paragraphs, for example, based on the primal horse we are given insight into the evolutionary use of the “inventive spirit” that prevails in nature.

“Bionics for Children”—the book’s subtitle—spans a wide panorama: The subjects range from people’s age-old dream of being able to fly, with the classic aspects of the Icarus myth and Leonardo da Vinci’s studies, to the findings of robotics and current issues of tapping efficient energy sources. The author skillfully combines the big picture with smaller details, the advances of research and fundamental questions with things we can experience in our everyday lives. For example, by correlating the ubiquitous hook-and-loop (e.g., Velcro®) fasteners, the nanotechnological self-cleaning effect of the lotus plant, and the fascinating “tricks” of insects, Belzer imparts a multifaceted picture of “adhesion, sticking, and cleaning” in nature and technology.

Well-placed information boxes on selected subjects make it possible to jump in at any point in the book. Together with stimulating do-it-yourself experiments explained appropriately for the target group, they offer more detailed knowledge on the respective subjects. This invitation to actively participate in the experiments is particularly effective, thanks to the vivid illustrations of Hamburg artist Peter Nishitani.

Sigrid Belzer thus imparts seemingly in passing a positive picture of curiosity, desire to experiment, and an inquiring mind. She shows “curious cat” readers that writing down experiment steps and documenting the findings work much like a cake recipe: It is only possible to repeat the enjoyment and pass it on to others if you know exactly how much flour and how many eggs went into the cake.

After around 350 pages the author leaves her readers with a call to “explore your world” by doing their own experiments. The readers have not only gained great insight and enjoyed great pleasure, but one more thing is certain: The virtue of the “ingenious inventor” is first and foremost preserving one’s childlike curiosity and the courage to ask questions!
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By Michael Sellhoff, 01.12.2010

​Michael Sellhoff is a research associate at the Philosophical Seminar of the University of Kiel and is a freelance editor.

Translated by Allison Brown