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The field of prosthetics has received a major impetus from the development of bionics. In bionics, engineering problems are solved by studying the properties of biological systems. For example, studying the swimming movements of fish and the flight of birds give the bionics engineer clues on how to solve problems in jet and rocket propulsion. Problems of conservation of energy in engineering are studied in relation to other biological examples.

Bionics is an outgrowth of the field of study known as cybernetics. The concern of cybernetics is to relate the way machines communicate, are controlled, and acquire information to similar processes in life systems. Bionics, like cybernetics, depends on the understanding of physiology, biochemistry, and both the physical and mechanical properties of living things. The bionic scientist must be prepared to apply mathematics, physics, and electronic engineering for the formulations of the interfaces between living and mechanical systems.

Bionics grew out of a concept known as the general-systems theory. Nicholas Rashevsky, a Russian-American scientist, was the first to develop a correlation between the workings of the central nervous system and mathematical models. After his initial studies, other physicists and engineers entered the field of bionics. They have studied the way in which visual images are established within biological visual systems. From these investigations technologically advanced cameras, television, and optical-recognition systems have emerged. Those who studied biological auditory systems were able to devise major improvements in radio transmitters and receivers.

Along with all of its other applications, bionics has been a major force in the development of prosthetics. The field of artificial organ transplantation owes its development to bionics. Artificial limbs—arms and legs—can now be electronically controlled by an electronic process that recognizes various patterns of electrical movement. Complicated movements of the prosthesis can be brought about by microcircuits that detect the patterns of electrical impulses within the tissue of the surrounding muscle as it is expressed on the outer skin. Electronic motors then carry the prosthesis to its task.

Other prosthetic devices employing bionic principles allow some of the blind to regain a sense of sight by transmitting nerve impulses around the damaged neural pathways to ones that are still capable of transmitting signals. Hearing aids are another example of prosthetic devices that have benefited from bionic research.



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Jordan P. Richman


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Autoimmune reactions

—The use of certain substances in prosthetic devices may trigger the production of antibodies from the immune system causing adverse effects.

Ball and socket joint

—A type of joint that allows the widest range of movement found in the hip and shoulder joint.


—A new field of science that combines engineering with biology.


—The Unites States Federal Drug Administration; oversees and regulates the introduction of new drug products into the medical marketplace.


—The thigh bone which is the site for the implantation of hip and knee prostheses.

Myoelectric control

—The electrical stimulation of prosthetic devices from the surrounding muscle tissue.


—The most common form of arthritis which is responsible for the degeneration of the cartilage in bone joints.


—A controversial substance that has been used in breast and other types of implants. It has moved from a low-risk prosthetic material to a high-risk category by the FDA.


—The part of a limb prosthesis that fits over the stump of the amputated limb.


—The leg bone.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Propagation to Quantum electrodynamics (QED)Prosthetics - Artificial Limbs, Effectiveness, Hip Replacement, Recovery, Knee Joint Replacement, Wrist And Finger Implants - Arthroplasty, Implanted prosthetic materials