Research in science and engineering is increasingly providing an insight into important problems in biology, building on perhaps the most famous example of this synergy when Crick and Watson used experimental physics to work out the structure of DNA. This talk takes examples from the area of liquid crystals, best known for flat panel television sets and mobile phone displays, and shows how nature applies this technology to living systems. In particular, it will explain how (and why) some animals see using polarized light. It will also show how we can move technology towards producing artificial muscles. We will finally consider how systems in nature could influence the next technological advance.