60th Anniversary Distinguished Lecture Highlights Nature’s Design in Solving Engineering Problems


An appreciative audience applauds Professor Vernon Buchanan, Professor of Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Computing, University of Technology, Jamaica, during his  UTech, Jamaica 60th Anniversary Distinguished Public Lecture hosted by the University on February 19, 2019 at the Papine Campus.

“Nature is the world’s leading designer and is the world’s most advanced and experienced engineer.  It is an extremely effective problem solver and its solutions are simple and efficient, even when they have to perform under severe conditions.  In nature, there is no such thing as waste, and inefficiency doesn’t last for long.” 

This fascinating picture of the harmony between nature and engineering was painted by accomplished UTech, Jamaica Researcher, Professor Vernon Buchanan, Professor of Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering and Computing throughout his UTech, Jamaica 60th Anniversary Distinguished Lecture delivered on Tuesday, February 19, 2019 at the Papine Campus.  Professor Buchanan’s lecture was on the topic "Using Nature's Design to Solve Engineering Problems." 

The distinguished researcher, who has over 40 years experience as an engineering educator, has done extensive research on Tribology and Materials.

He began his lecture by explaining that the coined word, Tribology (the science and technology of interacting surfaces in relative motion),  dates back to a 1966 Jost Report submitted to the UK government on the state of friction, lubrication and wear and the potential savings that could accrue from better application of tribological principles and practise to industry.

Professor Buchanan took the audience on an easy to follow, relatable talk in which he demonstrated the crucial role played by Tribology in making many of the products we depend on in our daily lives, from shoes that don’t slip, to the brakes in every form of transport. 

His lecture also gave the attentive audience of engineering students, educators and members of the engineering fraternity, a stimulating look at Biomimetics which looks to nature (animals, birds, insects, fish, plants, etc,) for inspiration to develop sustainable human technologies and to provide solutions to modern problems.

Professor Buchanan gave examples of biotribological inspired solutions and inventions made from nature’s blueprint, such as Velcro which mimics the properties of a burr plant; adhesive tapes designed using the “gecko effect,” referencing the way creatures such as flies, spiders and lizards attach themselves easily to vertical surfaces without falling off.  He shared that recently, scientists produced a super-adhesive tape called Geckel.  The tape mimics the surface of gecko and mussels and remains highly adhesive after 1,000 plus contact/release cycles, even under water.

Professor Buchanan also shared with the captivated audience that “we can now look forward to the day when people will be able to walk up vertical surfaces and across ceilings with the help of a gecko-inspired invention.”

Tribology Research at UTech, Jamaica

Professor Buchanan elaborated on some of the research which has been done at UTech, Jamaica, using tribology application.  These include research done for the sugar cane industry on the sugar cane milling process to extract the juice from cane plants.  He noted that “we are also working with composite materials, including concrete blocks that contain nature’s designed materials that are home-grown, such as banana, cane, bamboo, coconut and hemp fibres.” 

The School of Engineering at the University has also been engaged in research that is revisiting the way in which the surface of steel is currently hardened and researchers have developed an innovative approach that improves its wear characteristics.  The School is also investigating the tribological efficacy of potential inhibitors from effluents and fruits to minimise corrosion.  The Professor of Engineering used the opportunity to appeal for more funding  to acquire and maintain the types of equipment that are critical in advancing the research process in support of finding solutions for Jamaica’s development.

Professor Buchanan was introduced by Dr. Therese Chambers, Head, School of Engineering, while the Vote of Thanks was ably moved by Professor Nilza Aples, Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Computing who thanked Dr. Buchanan for an illuminating lecture illustrating how science and engineering design are being used to solve problems and to improve human life.

Professor Vernon Buchanan interacts with his students who were eager to congratulate him on an excellent lecture.

Professor Vernon Buchanan(centre) poses with members of his family, his wife, Mrs. Fay Buchanan (right) and his daughter, Dr. Autrene Buchanan-Waite and Professor Colin Gyles, Deputy President (left) and Professor Stephen Vasciannie, (2nd left) President.


Michelle Beckford (Mrs.)
Corporate Communications Manager
University of Technology, Jamaica
Telephone: 970-5299
Email: mbeckford@utech.edu.jm