New Education Fellow – Adam Pierce

Adam PierceThank you for taking the time to explore our blog! I am Adam Pierce. A Pacific Northwest transplant, I fell into Ohio because my wife had a unique opportunity to contribute to inventive education. Once here I was amazed at the innovation and scientific discovery focused in Ohio. Seeking to expand my own experience, I stumbled upon the opportunity to apply as an Integrated Bioscience doctoral student and as an Education Fellow to the Biomimicry program at The University of Akron and jumped at the chance. I will primarily be working with 5-8 grade students at the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM school, helping to make curriculum which will then hopefully provide a foundation for Biomimicry education in the years to come.

The past fifteen years or so has been spent volunteering in classrooms and communities, establishing programs in public education to make local education a better option for the families associated with the schools and my own children. 2007 for me was a polarizing year, it lead to the creation of environmental science and sustainable building curriculum for K-8 students local to the North Kitsap community. From there my studies have been pragmatically-based including involvement with a cohort group charged with the task of designing a sustainable educational facility on the farm of The Evergreen State College and that led to a number of opportunities to create partnerships with individuals and institutions, all of which led to my current interest. I have a B/A in Environmental Studies and Creative Writing from The Evergreen State College with concentrations in Sustainable Design and Organic Architecture. I spent the summer of 2012 seeing firsthand the new field of Baubotanik and learning about the study from Ferdinand Ludwig in Stuttgart, and exploring the practical application of organic farms throughout Europe and especially in Küçükkuyu Turkey, largely by volunteering and being shown how to work the farms.

The forest and wooded hillsides of my childhood in Washington left an indelible mark on my personality. Instead of seeing how we as a people can expand into the world I always see a way the world can expand into us. With the Biomimicry program at Akron I feel that the next logical step in ecological building and education can take place and I am excited to have the chance to be a part of that.


Biological Knowledge Doubling Every Five Years

Due to advances in computation and nanotechnology, biological knowledge is doubling every five years (Rifkin 1999). Looking forward, what’s the impact on biomimicry? According to Gebeshuber, Gruber, and Drack, biomimicry practitioners increase their chances of success when they focus on emulating biological systems where causation is well-understood (2009); so, as we learn more about biological systems, our ability to develop effective biomimetic technologies grows. Right now the fields of biology where causation is best understood are biochemistry, biophysics, biomechanics, and physiology (as indicated by the ratio of explanatory versus descriptive knowledge) (Gebeshuber, Gruber, and Drack 2009).

What about in hindsight? Looking back, how does exponential growth in biological knowledge impact biomimicry? Often, new scientific discoveries lead to modifications of old theories and occasionally the development of entirely new theories. This means that in some cases scientific theory upon which a biomimetic product or process is based will be revised. For example, Eastgate Centre, a shopping center and office block in Harare, Zimbabwe, was modeled after a termite mound to achieve passive ventilation. When architect Mick Pearce designed Eastgate in 1993, he based his design on a natural convection model of gas and heat exchange in termite mounds (Lüscher 1961). In this model, the termite colony’s metabolic heat warms the air in the underground nest. Hot air buoys upwards from the nest through the mound’s aboveground, central tunnels, and as it loses heat, sinks back down through passages that run parallel to and just below the mound’s surface. During downward passage, the air’s oxygen levels are refreshed via diffusion through the mound’s porous walls (Lüscher 1961). Since Eastgate’s construction, scientists have learned that while heat’s buoyancy effect contributes to gas and heat exchange in some termite mounds, it is only a part of a much more complicated story. Wind also plays a big role. Wind contacting the windward side of the aboveground termite mound drives oxygen-rich air through its porous exterior into the mound’s tunnels. Stale, carbon-dioxide-rich air is sucked out the leeward side (Turner 2001). Eastgate’s architect was not privy to this information, but we are now. What should we do with this new knowledge?

Eastgate Centre - Harare, Zimbabwe

Eastgate Centre – Harare, Zimbabwe

In cases where transfer of a functional principle from biology to design falls short, we should ask ourselves: how did that affect the design’s overall performance? Eastgate’s architect may have had incomplete information, but his design still functions very well. The building’s interior temperature stays in a comfortable range of a few degrees year round. It is much more energy efficient than buildings of similar size with traditional HVAC systems. That said, there may still be room for improvement. When new scientific knowledge becomes available, we should ask: how can we use it to help us improve upon old biomimetic design concepts?


  1. Gebeshuber, I. C., Gruber, P., and Drack, M., 2009, “A gaze into the crystal ball: biomimetics in the year 2059,” Proc. Inst. Mech. Eng. Part C J. Mech. Eng. Sci., 223(12), pp. 2899–2918.
  2. Lüscher, M., 1961, “Air-Conditioned Termite Nests,” Sci. Am., 205(1), pp. 138–145.
  3. Rifkin, J., 1999, The biotech century: harnessing the gene and remaking the world, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York.
  4. Turner, J. S., 2001, “On the mound of Macrotermes michaelseni as an organ of respiratory gas exchange,” Physiol. Biochem. Zool. PBZ, 74(6), pp. 798–822.

BiomimicryNYC Workshop for Educators

Continuing with the education theme from my past post, I’d like to highlight a great workshop I was able to participate in this summer, put on by BiomimicryNYC and sponsored by NYSERDA. At this Biomimicry Workshop for Educators, hosted by the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, educators from all types of schools and grade levels came to learn how to integrate biomimicry into their own curriculum and lesson plans.

The teachers ranged from Kindergarten educators, up through the undergraduate teaching level (mainly for education majors). I’m continuously struck by how many people hear about biomimicry and then have this intense desire to learn about it. Even through this course, one teacher learned about and was subsequently sponsored by a parent to go through this workshop because he could see the value in bringing it to the school. Yet another teacher’s catalyst was her own child, learning about biomimicry through her. Learning about biomimicry and the workshop came from a number of different trajectories, but regardless of the start, we all came together to learn how to teach the next generation about this incredible new paradigm of thinking.

Through the workshop, we tried out and experimented with various established lesson plans, but expanded beyond scientific biomimetic applications, to delve into the fictional realm – letting kids use their imaginations, blended with biomimicry tools and knowledge, to come up with something completely unique, such as….Mantis Shrimp Man! This lesson let kids (in this case – us big kids) create our own super heroes taking inspiration from unique abilities of organisms and systems. We then drew the super heroes and shared them with the rest of the class. What a great way to combine biomimicry, science, art and design, and public speaking skills into one lesson – a truly biomimetic, cross-disciplinary designed lesson! Below are a few photos of the many activities we dove into.

photo 2photo 1photo 3-1photo 1-1

Dinosaur feathers and the evolution of flight

I am by no means an expert in bird or dinosaur feathers, but one of my advisors at The University of Akron, Dr. Matt Shawkey, is an expert in feather coloration in extant and extinct models (including dinosaurs).  Through our conversations I’ve become familiar with the subject area, including new discoveries.

This month, there have been a lot of important new discoveries related to dinosaur feathers published in academic journals.  I thought I would just collect them here and share them with you at once.

To start out as a great beginning example, I would like to share one of the TED-Ed animations that I liked the most, related to this topic.


Secondly,this PhD comic titled “The Science News Cycle” is also an excellent introduction.

In this comic, it illustrates how new scientific discoveries are misrepresented by the media, often deviating more and more from actual experimental results as the story is passed among various outlets.

In The following links, you can get some real examples by just reading the titles.

The source of those links can be separated into three different categories: 1. Original scientific papers; 2. University PR office; 3. Scientific news outlets.

Example 1.

category #1: New specimen of Archaeopteryx provides insights into the evolution of pennaceous feathers (Nature, July 3)

category #3: Early bird Archaeopteryx ‘wore feather trousers’ for display

Example 2.

category #1: A new raptorial dinosaur with exceptionally long feathering provides insights into dromaeosaurid flight performance (Nature Communications, July 15)

category #2: New feathered dinosaur from China sheds light on dinosaur flight

Example 3.

category #1: A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales (Science, July 25)

category #2: Fossils found in Siberia suggest all dinosaurs had feathers

The bottom line is: When you are interested in an article you just read or the knowledge you just learned, refer back to the original scientific paper whenever it is possible.  This is especially important for biomimicry. Because only based on scientific facts, biomimicry can achieve its true potential.

Universal urination duration in mammals

Nature is a source of all kinds of inspirations, some more original than others. This one I found very exceptional and so I thought: “Lets share it on our blog!”
At Georgia Tech (George Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and School of Biology) they have been studying how fast animals urinate…yes, how they pee. They found out that all animals weighing more than 6.6 pounds (3 kg) urinate in 20 seconds, on average. So an elephant (18 L bladder capacity) urinates in the same amount of time as a cat (5 mL bladder capacity). It all has to do with the length of their urethra: Larger animals have longer urethra, which increases flow rate because of higher pressure. An elephant urinates the same volume per second as five showerheads. Can you imagine standing under a peeing elephant?

dog_peeing_klein-749915 2124279454_4416a1e0e5

This study disproves a previous hypothesis that urinary flow is controlled by bladder pressure generated by muscular contraction; and instead suggests urination is powered by the force of gravity rather than external pressure.
They demonstrated the feasibility of this by showing that a teacup, quart and a gallon of water emptied at a same rate, using varying lengths of connecting tubes. This is an interesting insight that could inform liquid dispensing systems, as it’s not the capacity of the tank that determines the dispensing rate, but it’s the connector tube. Any ideas?

Cool, right? I just have one remark. I think humans are an exception – I still hold the record of longest urinator with my 1 minute 43 seconds… but maybe it’s just me who can’t do it in 20 seconds.

Journal reference, published in PNAS: Duration of urination does not change with body size – Patricia J. Yanga, Jonathan Phama, Jerome Chooa, and David L. Hu

Innovation Engineering

Biomimicry is a novel approach to innovation.  One way to make biomimicry relatable and permeate more quickly through an established organization is to integrate it with innovation approaches that are already familiar to and widely-used by employees.

BioTRIZ exemplifies how integrating biomimicry with a popular innovation approach can make it more accessible.  BioTRIZ is an integration of biomimicry and TRIZ.  TRIZ is a familiar engineering problem-solving tool developed by Soviet inventor Genrich Altshuller and his colleagues in the 1940s. It is a matrix where intersections represent engineering trade-offs; for instance, a vehicle with higher horsepower usually requires more fuel. At each intersection there is a cell containing a technological principle(s) for resolving a trade-off. If the vehicle’s body is made more aerodynamic, it’s rate of acceleration / top speed increases without requiring more fuel. In the 2000s, a team of researchers at the Centre for Biomimetic and Natural Technologies at the University of Bath in the UK, developed a revamped version of TRIZ by identifying biological principles for overcoming the same trade-offs.  Trade-off resolutions recommended by BioTRIZ are different than those recommended by the original TRIZ (only 12% overlap), which evidences that biology often solves problems differently than we typically do with technology. In technology, especially at small scales, the manipulation of energy may account for up to 70% of the solution, whereas in biology, energy never figures into more than 5% of the solution. Instead of manipulating energy, biological solutions tend to leverage information (control mechanisms) and structure (material arrangement). For example, HVAC systems which allow humans to live in a variety of climatic zones are energy intensive; but penguins survive extreme cold because their feathers are short, stiff, and interlock to trap a layer of air beneath that provides 80% of the penguin’s thermal insulation. This is a much more energy efficient solution to temperature regulation than a typical HVAC system. Thus, BioTRIZ builds from a familiar innovation approach, while introducing new problem-solving principles.

IEI am curious to explore how biomimicry could be integrated with other innovation approaches and tools; for instance,Innovation Engineering.  Innovation Engineering (IE) is a scientific system for growing a culture of never-ending innovation that increases innovation speed up to 6x and decreases risk 30-80%.  Over 1,500 companies and 15,000 managers have been educated in IE.  I met the founder and CEO of the IE Institute, Doug Hall, in September 2013.  Doug is interested in exploring how biomimicry might enhance the IE system.

I’m in the process of developing materials for the IE Institute. To start, I’m compiling descriptions of biological strategies and biomimetic inventions for use as ideation stimulus. These materials have the potential to spark meaningfully unique ideas for product, service, or systems innovations. Doug Hall piloted some of my materials at a recent IE Executive Program – a recurring 1.5 day training program where executives learn the fundamentals of IE – and the response was positive.  I’m excited to refine these materials and test them on a broader audience. Stay tuned.

What other proven innovation approaches might be strengthened by biomimicry…and biomimicry likewise strengthened through association? Let’s take a lesson from biological systems and cultivate more cooperative relationships!

NEO Biomimicry Education Showcase

We’ve had a lot of posts on what’s happening globally with research, neat sustainability ideas, etc., but for this week, I thought I’d highlight something a bit closer to home – biomimicry education in Northeast Ohio.

Officially, I’m the first Biomimicry Education Fellow in the PhD program – hosted at Lake Ridge Academy, and serving the greater Lorain County Public Schools, thanks to a generous Nord Family Foundation grant. I’ve been on board for six months now, and have been amazed at how many schools in the region are taking it upon themselves to integrate biomimicry in some capacity at a more grassroots level. This past week, with the help of Key Bank, Great Lakes Biomimicry hosted a regional “Education Showcase,” which brought teachers of various schools together to highlight how they’ve been incorporating biomimicry into their classrooms.

As wide and varied were the schools, so were the approaches to biomimicry integration. One school, Tallmadge Public High School, was very bottom-up in its approach. The students came to the biology teacher to start a biomimicry club and although the teacher had no idea what biomimicry was, she was keen to get on board, resulting in two remarkable outcomes in two short years. A biomimicry science fair team made it to the state competition, and by the end of the second year, the club had grown threefold to over 60 students.

Another school – The Inventor’s Hall of Fame STEM School – has a “Biomimicry in Every Classroom” approach, utilizing Problem-Based Learning (PBL) across curricula, while integrating biomimicry throughout the subjects. Yet another school’s (Hawken) biology and art teachers worked together to get the kids to use biomimicry to solve an everyday issue they encounter, then represent the outcome in a fine arts piece, while having the high school entrepreneurship classes come in to help teach the students about making business pitches. This culminated in an awesome trifecta of disciplines coming together around biomimicry, and a showcase where projects were presented to parents.

In yet another interesting approach, MC2 STEM School did a nine-week biomimicry PBL focused approach, collaborating with business partners on a regional real-world issue, which resulted in prototypes designed by the students.

The enthusiasm was palpable in the room, not only for biomimicry, but coming together to learn from each other and see what else is going on in the region. Each approach was underpinned by a common thread, and that was devoted teachers putting in time, effort, and many times, their own funds, to teach kids about biomimicry.  There are a ton of really exciting things happening in Northeast Ohio when it comes to biomimicry education, but for my next post, I’m already looking forward to discussing an amazing workshop I’m currently attending – a Biomimicry for Educators Workshop at the Omega Institute, put on by Biomimicry NYC and sponsored by NYSERDA that brings together educators from a range of disciplines and grade levels. It’s awesome!