Sponges, Skyscrapers, and Bridges

Sponges, Skyscrapers and Bridges
Venus’ Flower Basket Sponge

As we have said many times, examining design in the natural world can lead to solutions for human problems. We have mentioned that Velcro came about by studying burdock plant seeds. Spider webs have taught us how to make stronger fibers. Now there is a connection between sponges, skyscrapers, and bridges.

Researchers at Harvard University and the National Science Foundation have published the results of the study of a sponge called Venus’ Flower Basket (Euplectella aspergillum). It’s a deep water glass sponge that has a lot to teach engineers about building bridges and skyscrapers.

This sponge employs two sets of parallel diagonal skeletal struts that intersect and are fused to an underlying square grid creating a checkerboard-like pattern. Research shows that this design has a significantly higher strength-to-weight ratio than the traditional lattice designs used to construct buildings and bridges for centuries.

Matheus Fernandes, who is the first author of the research paper, says, “We found that the sponge’s diagonal reinforcement strategy achieves the highest buckling resistance for a given amount of material, which means we can build stronger and more resilient structures by rearranging existing material in the structure.”

These sponges have used this structure from the beginning of life on Earth. Peter Anderson, a program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Materials Research, says, “The structures of marine sponges inspire not only skyscrapers and bridges, but have the potential to accelerate the discovery and development of lightweight, porous materials with superior mechanical properties.”

Romans 1:20 speaks of being able to see God’s wisdom and design “from the creation of the world.” From burdocks and Velcro to sponges, skyscrapers, and bridges, wherever we look in nature, we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: nsf.gov

Grand Canyon Stratigraphy

Grand Canyon Stratigraphy

Over the years, this ministry has taken groups of people on what we call the “Canyonlands Tour” more than 30 times. A highlight of that trip is visiting the Grand Canyon. Looking into the Canyon, we see the various layers of rock, with each layer having a different set of properties. The study of Grand Canyon stratigraphy shows God’s design that allows us to live on this planet.

The materials in the layers (strata) of Earth all come from the molten material that made up the planet at its origin. Molten material solidified into granite. The red orthoclase material weathered out of the granite first, producing clay. Feldspars containing vital elements like iron, magnesium, calcium, and potassium came out of the granite, leaving quartz behind. The quartz became sand, and the other elements became soil, limestone, and all the other materials we see in the strata today.

As we stand on the edge of the Canyon, we can see the alternating layers of the Grand Canyon stratigraphy. We see sandstone (made of quartz), shale (made from mud), conglomerate (made from gravel), and limestone (a chemically precipitated rock made slowly in an area of quiet water). Deep within the canyon, we see layers tilted at an angle, indicating catastrophic geologic activity. Below that, we see rocks that have been altered by heat and pressure (metamorphic rocks). At the very bottom, we see the original volcanic granite from which all of this was formed.

We gaze in awe at the history of Earth before our eyes, and we marvel at God’s wisdom in design to prepare this incredible planet on which we live.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Migrations and Winter Adaptations

Migrations and Winter Adaptations
Monarch Butterfly

There are many things about fall that make it an interesting time of year. It is not just the colors and the cool and pleasant temperatures that make fall special. We also see migrations and winter adaptations.

Bird migrations are amazing, with some species using unique wind patterns to make the journey across the Caribbean. Other birds that spend summers in our area, such as loons, congregate in groups in Florida in the winter.

The most amazing migrations, however, are the smaller forms of life. For example, green darner dragonflies spend the winter in Florida and the Caribbean, where they mate and produce offspring. When the average temperature warms to about 48 degrees F, these offspring fly 900 miles to the north, where they breed, lay eggs, and die. When the eggs hatch, they spend the summer in Canada or Michigan. In the fall, these third-generation individuals return to Florida flying some 900 miles (1500 km) or more over a route that they have never seen before.

When we consider migrations and winter adaptations, we can’t overlook monarch butterflies. They are the most amazing of these multi-generational migrants, with fourth-generation butterflies making a 3,000-mile (4,800 km) flight. There are also insects and amphibians with a blood protein that acts like antifreeze, allowing them to be frozen solid without damaging their cells.

There seems to be no limit to the way animals can adapt to winter, and sometimes these adaptations change. In our area, Canada geese used to all migrate to southern latitudes to spend the winter. With the advent of power plants that keep some rivers and lakes free of ice, that has changed. A sizable population of Canada geese remains in our area of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota all winter long. We have had as many as 200 geese crowding open water near a power plant in the St. Joseph River during the coldest days of winter. That didn’t happen in 1959 when I moved to this area.

These patterns of migration and winter adaptations are difficult to explain as accidental. It would seem that the animals have had a designed genetic program to allow them to survive. The design is fascinating, and the Designer is even more amazing. We praise God as we watch the magic of migrations and winter adaptations.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from “On Nature” by Sheryl Myers, The Herald Bulletin, October 3, 2020 page B3.

Problems Facing Humanity Today

Problems Facing Humanity Today and Gold Nanoparticles
Gold Nanoparticles Illustration

It is no secret that there are many problems facing humanity today. Doomsday scenarios are all over the web, and they show up in serious scientific writings as well.

The October 2020 issue of Science News carried a feature titled “Scientists to Watch.” As you read through the descriptions of what outstanding scientific minds are doing, you see a great deal of hope for solutions to some of our physical problems. I find it interesting that the researchers are using natural materials and processes that are already operational on a small level in the world around us.

Spider webs are one example. Medical folklore promoted spider webs as a dressing for wounds. New research has shown that spider silk is coated with chemicals that promote blood clotting and prevent infection. Scientists are studying spider silk as a drug delivery system that can produce scaffolding for tissue repair.

Another exciting solution for humanity’s problems today is research showing that gold nanoparticles are a catalyst for converting carbon dioxide into methane and propane. When sunlight shines on the gold nanoparticles, it sets off a series of reactions that take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and produce hydrocarbon fuels. Researchers are also studying the natural process where gold and platinum nanoparticles liberate hydrogen from ammonia. This is useful because many industries need hydrogen for processes, such as fuel cell production.

So far, these processes are slow and inefficient, but speeding them up and making them efficient is the subject of research by today’s outstanding young scientists. God has given us the tools to clean the air, get plastic out of the oceans, and stop global warming. Science is recognizing the wisdom and design built into every corner of the world to solve the world’s physical problems. A more pressing need is getting people to look at the spiritual problems facing humanity today.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Slingshot Spiders and G Forces

Slingshot Spiders and G Forces
Slingshot Spider waiting for prey

Scientists have so far named around 35,000 species of spiders. Arachnids have been designed to survive in so many different ways that they keep biologists busy researching them. Just trying to understand all the different devices that spiders use to capture prey is a challenge. The National Science Foundation just announced a new study from researchers at Georgia Tech of a spider family known as slingshot spiders.

Scientists have known about slingshot spiders since the 1930s, but this is the first study of the kinematic energy, velocity, and acceleration of these Peruvian arachnids. They build a web and then stretch it with a piece of silk to create a three-dimensional spring. They store enough energy in that web spring to produce an acceleration 100 times that of a cheetah. The acceleration creates the force of roughly 130 G’s. That’s more than ten times what fighter pilots can withstand without blacking out.

Slingshot spiders make a web and a tension line as tools to catch their prey. When the target comes within striking distance, the spider releases the tension line and rides the web at ultrafast speed to capture it. This creates the fastest full-bodied motion of any spider. What’s more, it doesn’t involve muscles which frogs, crickets, or grasshoppers use to launch themselves. Every night, the spider creates this complex, three-dimensional spring with vastly more power and energy density than nanotubes or other synthetic materials created by humans.

Researchers are interested in the technique slingshot spiders use to store energy in web silk because engineers could use it to power tiny robots or similar devices. Once again, we have a situation where something found in nature can lead to new materials or processes for humans. When God designs something applying the engineering to make it work, we can study it and use the principles to create useful tools. The lesson of history is that the creation is full of wisdom and design that we can apply for our benefit.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Relationship Between Fruits and Birds

Relationship Between Fruits and Birds demonstrated in Viburnum tinus fruits
Viburnum tinus Fruit

There is an essential relationship between fruits and birds. We all know that birds eat fruits, but we may not be aware of the system’s complexity and how it varies from place to place.

Here in Michigan, we struggle with poison ivy, and I am very sensitive to it. When I moved into my present house, the property was covered with a great deal of poison ivy. I spent most of our first summer eradicating it. The following spring, I found new poison ivy plants coming up in places where there were none the year before. One of my biology teacher friends informed me that birds eat the berries of poison ivy, and they plant many of the seeds resulting in a new crop. That makes it hard to eradicate.

An August 17, 2020, report by the National Science Foundation told about a study of an evergreen shrub found in the U.K. and most of Europe. This plant, called Viburnum tinus, stores fat in the cells of its fruit, making it an ideal food for birds’ survival success. The fruit also contains a large number of seeds. The fat, or lipids, in the fruit’s cells, give it structural color, making it a very bright blue. Structural color is not made from pigments, but it is produced by internal cell structures interacting with light. The feathers of many birds, including peacocks, and the wings of butterflies have structural color, but it is very rare in plants.

Miranda Sinnot-Armstrong of Yale University says that they used electron microscopy to study the Viburnum tinus fruits’ cell walls. She said they “found a structure unlike anything we’d ever seen before: layer after layer of small lipid droplets.” Because of the lipids, these plants supply the fats that birds need. Their shiny metallic color signals the birds to lead them to this nutritive source.

The more we study the natural world around us, the more we see incredibly complex structures to allow life to exist. This is not an accident but a complex set of systems to provide diversity in the natural world. The relationship between fruits and birds is designed to give the birds a way to find nourishment and to support their food sources in a symbiotic relationship. It’s another example of God’s design for life.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Viruses Are Critical Agents for Life

Viruses Are Critical Agents for Life
Emiliania huxleyi bloom in English Channel

The pandemic has made many people think that viruses are a bad thing. However recent research has shown that viruses are critical agents for life. They convert energy and organic matter at the bottom of the food chain into a form that provides us with what we need to live on Earth.

An algae called Emiliania huxleyi uses sunlight and nutrients from the ocean to produce massive algae blooms in the ocean. If it stopped there, the presence of the algae would be detrimental to ocean life. We all know about the “red tide” that afflicts coastal areas of Florida where algae are destructive.

But there is more to the story of Emiliania huxleyi. A virus called coccolithovirus infects the algae, killing it and produing organic matter that is the base of the ocean food chain supporting higher forms of life. Kay Bidle of Rutgers University is the chief author of the study. She says that this relationship is likely to apply to other virus-algae interactions in the ocean.

This new discovery is related to changes in the ocean observed from the International Space Station. The magnitude of this process is huge, and may provide a solution to some of our biggest environmental problems.

The National Science Foundation has reported on this discovery at nsf.gov. Mike Sieracki who is a program director in NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences says, “We are just beginning to understand how these incredibly complex microscopic interactions can affect global processes such as the carbon cycle.”

Viruses are critical agents for life. They are tools that God has built into the creation to provide the food and energy we need. Like all viral interactions, the virus works with other created things, in this case algae, to accomplish its provision for life’s existence.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Colors of Fall and What they Mean

Colors of Fall and What they Mean

The beauty of autumn’s brilliant colors is an amazing testimony to the creative wisdom of God as well as an expression of His love of beauty. The colors of fall are caused by several pigments and the interaction of sunlight and sugar.

Most of us know that chlorophyll makes leaves green. When leaves receive reduced sunlight in the fall, they also have a reduced supply of nutrients and water, causing the chlorophyll to be removed. The chlorophyll masks two pigments that have different colors. Carotene is yellow, and several varieties of anthocyanins are red. Many leaves contain tannin, which is brown and is dominant in oak trees. Sunlight acting on trapped sugar also produces anthocyanins with various sparkling colors, which is why the color is so spectacular on a sunny autumn day in a maple forest.

As the days grow shorter, the reduced amount of sunlight causes a corky wall called the “abscission layer” to form between the twig and the leaf stalk. This wall will eventually break and cause the leaf to drop off in the breeze. The corky material seals off the vessels that supplied the leaf with nutrients and water and blocks any loss of sugars from the plant.

What is especially interesting is that the leaf colors are not all the same. Some vines produce spectacular colors. Poison ivy takes on a beautiful red due to a high concentration of anthocyanin. Aspen has a high concentration of carotene producing the vivid yellows which dominate the woods in the Rocky Mountains. In Michigan, we have maples, gum, aspen, and oak, giving us spectacular colors that vary from one location to another.

The colors of fall are a great testimony to the fact that God paid attention to aesthetics in the creation. If survival of the fittest were the only criteria for choosing the chemicals that allow plants to survive, it seems that there would be one best choice. Different chemicals provide a vivid, beautiful splash of color for humans to enjoy. Beauty is not part of the evolutionary model, but it speaks of God’s creativity, giving us a wonderful and beautiful world in which to live.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Abortion in the Bible

Abortion in the Bible

Shouldn’t a woman have the right to decide whether she will give up nine months of her life to carry a baby and then years of raising the child? Is aborting a child infanticide? What can we learn about abortion in the Bible?

The most fundamental problem is that conception is supposed to occur when a man and a woman are united in marriage. Many women seek abortions when they are pregnant and unmarried. There are also situations where a married couple doesn’t want a child or can’t afford one. This creates a difficult choice. What we must consider is when is an embryo a human being, and is it ever an extension of the mother’s body?

Scientifically the embryo is a human, and genetically everything about the child’s physical makeup has been determined at conception. Morning sickness shows that the baby is not an extension of the woman’s body and that her body recognizes it as a foreign entity. The baby growing inside the womb is aware of much of what is going on outside and can respond to outside stimuli long before birth.

We don’t see direct instructions regarding abortion in the Bible. However, there are numerous indications that the unborn child is human. Exodus 21:22-23 says that a man who kills an unborn child in a fight should bare the punishment designed for a man who killed another human.

Many biblical passages talk about humans being made in the womb. Consider these:

“When God punishes me, how shall I answer Him? Did not He who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same One fashion us in the womb?” Job 31:13-15

“For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Psalms 139:13, 16

“Then the word of the Lord came to me saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I sanctified you. I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’” Jeremiah 1:4-5.

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb…” Luke 1:41.

Even though there are no specific instructions regarding abortion in the Bible, we see the sacredness of human life. This area of decision making is challenging. Nobody should minimize how difficult it is for women to stand for the sacredness of human life by choosing to allow the life inside her to survive. That child could bless a family that can’t have biological children. We need to support women who reject infanticide and help the innocent child find a home with the love and family that God intended.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Recycling Enables the Natural Beauty

Recycling Enables the Natural Beauty

I have lived my entire life in the woodlands of North America. I love walking through the vast areas of pines, birches, maples, oaks, blueberries, ferns, mosses, aspens, and raspberries. To me, it is pure joy to sit in the woods or in a boat on a lake or river and listen to the sounds of nature. I especially enjoy the fall when the colors become vivid, and animal life is in a rush to prepare for winter. The falling of leaves to the ground, followed by frost and snow, adds its own magic to the joy of being in the woods. Recycling enables the natural beauty we enjoy.

What we are seldom aware of is the massive amounts of waste produced in the woods. We all know about leaves and probably have had some cruel words about them when they cover our lawns. The fact is that a constant rain of organic material falls to the floor of the woods. Limbs, bark, twigs, dead grass, moss, sawdust, animal excrement, and carcasses pile up year after year. Yet when you walk in the woods, the floor is made up of a thin, spongy layer of black soil. What happens to the massive amount of debris that falls to the forest floor every year?

The answer to this question is under-appreciated by most of us. Recycling enables the natural beauty of the woods. God has built into the forest an incredibly efficient recycling system. When something organic falls to the forest floor, it is swarmed on by bacteria, termites, ants, fungi, and worms, which form the basis of the food chain for higher forms of life. Nutrients in the woods seldom last longer than a few weeks at the most. Rain is moderate and percolates through these nutrients, rapidly helping them find their way back into the forest’s living tissues.

Those places where there are not dense forests have a completely different system of recycling. In the far north, where forests are not dominant, migrating salmon provide the ecological balance needed. In desert areas, the lack of ecological balance means that life for humans is difficult at best. Human survival depends on God’s recycling system. In some areas of the rich farmlands of America, we can measure the soil in feet. That allows us to grow our grain crops that sustain our existence, but those areas were built in an ancient forest.

God told us to take care of what He gave us. (See Genesis 2:15.) One part of caring for the Earth is to copy God’s recycling techniques. Recycling enables the natural beauty by replenishing the nutrients we take from the soil rather than polluting the air by burning them or polluting the ground by bagging in plastic and burying them.

— John N. Clayton © 2020