Adhesive on heart © Dr. Jianyu Li, Harvard University

Adhesive on heart © Dr. Jianyu Li, Harvard University

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Museum showcases biomimetic work at Royal Society Science Exhibition

Curators from the Natural History Museum and three academics from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London will display research that aims to inspire novel technologies from a selection of animals found in the collections.

The developments have come from the field of biomimetics in which scientists look to evolution to provide solutions to the challenges we face. The Natural History Museum is uniquely placed to assist Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering in this field due to the wealth of biological material held within the collections. These specimens may hold the secrets to solving some long-standing engineering problems. 

The teams hope that their stand at the science exhibition, entitled Nurturing nature’s innovations, will ignite an interest in natural history and the sciences helping to inspire the decision makers of tomorrow.


·         Stuck on you: Slug-inspired biocompatible medical adhesive. Developed by mimicking key features of the Dusky Arion (Arion subfuscus) slug’s defensive slime this medical glue has unprecedented tissue adhesive properties. As well as possibly being a future alternative for stitches and sutures the material can even be used on internal wounds, working just as well under wet conditions. The exhibit will allow visitors to see the medical slime in action on organs, get hands on with “slug slime” and learn about some of the applications for this medical glue.

Jon Ablett (NHM) & Dr Adam Celiz (Imperial)

·         Enter the dragonfly: Research (recently featured on QI) which has shown that the dragonflies can predict the path of their prey, thereby tracking their flying targets. This exhibit aims to highlight another super sense of the dragonfly: the mechanosensory feedback of the wings.  A 1m long instrumented interactive model of dragonfly wings will demonstrate the dragonfly’s mechanosensors. The work aims to develop sensory mechanisms to enable the next generation of aircrafts and unmanned aerial systems to achieve better flight control. The exhibit also features live dragonfly nymphs feeding as well as selection of the Museum dragonfly specimens.

Dr Ben Price (NHM) & Dr Huai-Ti Lin (Imperial)

·         Come fly with me: Using specimens and scanning facilities at the Museum, researchers study adaptations enabling flies to keep a level gaze. Gaze stabilization turns out to be a key requirement supporting the animals’ stunningly aerobatic performance unmatched by any man-made flying device. By visualizing the neck muscle system on a micro meter scale and investigating how the flies use visual as well as mechanosensory information to control their gaze and flight, the researchers aim to advance the capabilities of future aerial robots. The exhibit will feature a VR headset that allows people to see the world through the eyes of different flying insects and to try a movement challenge.

Dr Daniel Whitmore (NHM) and Professor Holger Krapp (Imperial).

Jon Ablett, Senior curator of Mollusca at the Museum says,

‘It’s been really great working with Imperial on the exhibit for the summer science exhibition. Our collections have historically been used for studies such as taxonomy systematics, evolution and ecological work, so seeing the collections used for cutting edge bioengineering has been amazing. This is just one way we are redefining the role of natural history museums and engaging in finding solutions to the problems facing humanity.’

The Summer Science Exhibition is the Royal Society’s flagship outreach event. Celebrating cutting edge research in the world, the Exhibition will be held in London 2-8 July, with 22 exhibits expecting to draw more than 15,000 visitors over the course of the week.


Notes for editors

Interview: Natural History Museum scientists are available for interview.

Media contact: Tel: +44 (0) 20 7942 5654/+44 (0) 7799 690151 Email:

·         The Natural History Museum exists to inspire a love of the natural world and unlock answers to the big issues facing humanity and the planet. It is a world-leading science research centre, and through its unique collection and unrivalled expertise it is tackling issues such as food security, eradicating diseases and managing resource scarcity. The Natural History Museum is the most visited natural history museum in Europe and the top science attraction in the UK; we welcome more than 4.5 million visitors each year and our website receives over 500,000 unique visitors a month. People come from around the world to enjoy our galleries and events and engage both in-person and online with our science and educational activities through innovative programmes and citizen science projects.

·         Discover South Kensington brings together the Natural History Museum and other leading cultural and educational organisations to promote innovation and learning. South Kensington is the home of science, arts and inspiration. Discovery is at the core of what happens here and there is so much to explore every day.  

·         Imperial College London is one of the world's leading universities. The College's 17,000 students and 8,000 staff are expanding the frontiers of knowledge in science, medicine, engineering and business, and translating their discoveries into benefits for our society.

Imperial is the UK's most international university, according to Times Higher Education, with academic ties to more than 150 countries. Reuters named the College as the UK's most innovative university because of its exceptional entrepreneurial culture and ties to industry.

·         The Royal Society has held a Summer Science Exhibition to showcase the best of UK science since its early days, when Fellows of the Society were invited to the President's home to view instruments and specimens from the latest research. Presidents have hosted displays and discussions of the latest scientific research since the early nineteenth century. Visitors in 1896 had their hands x-rayed while those in 1910 could view novel pictures of Halley’s Comet. New technology such as Thomas Edison’s incandescent lamps were exhibited in 1889 while Captain Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica 1914 showcased natural history specimens.