What is Biomimicry?
Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) is a discipline that studies nature's best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Studying a leaf to invent a better solar cell is an example. The What is Biomimicry? video below explains more:
The core idea is that nature, creative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Through evolution animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. They have found what works, what is appropriate, and most important, what lasts here on Earth. This is the real news of biomimicry: After 3.8 billion years of adaptation, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.
Like the viceroy butterfly imitating the monarch, we humans are imitating the best adapted organisms in our habitat. We are learning, for instance, how to harness energy like a leaf, grow food like a prairie, build ceramics like an abalone, self-medicate like a chimp, create color like a peacock, compute like a cell, and run a business like a hickory forest.
The conscious emulation of life's genius is a survival strategy for the human race, a path to a sustainable future. The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.
Biomimicry Design Spiral
Before students embark upon designing their shelter, teachers should introduce them to the Biomimicry Design Spiral.
- Biomimicry Design Spiral (PDF)
This spiral will help students think about the engineering and design process in an organized way. The spiral emphasizes the reiterative nature of the process—that is, after solving one challenge, then evaluating how well it meets life’s principles, another challenge often arises, and the design process begins anew. For instance, an engineer might design a wind turbine that mimics life’s streamlining principles, but then ask how will it be manufactured? Will the energy use and chemical processing mimic nature too? It can, with another cycle through the design method. You can use the spiral for class discussion and to stimulate thinking about the engineering process. The Design Spiral steps include:
This process is much like the one that engineers go through when designing a product. The What is Engineering? video below provides information on the engineering design process.
You might also find the Asking Good Questions video helpful in generating class discussion.
- Asking Good Questions Video