Permaculture polyculture



My family… we’re country folk. We know a lot about plants and soil, bugs and birds, and animals. So when my dad said to me this summer that he thought his garden was doing better this year, it was really nothing new. It was surprising, however, because my dad has been really sick this year and unable to do much with the garden, short of getting it planted in the ground. I went over and looked at it. It was covered in ‘weeds.’ Things were growing: vegetables, flowers, herbs. No nice, neat, orderly rows that one would expect in a “typical” garden, but it was working, nonetheless. After a nice visit, my son and I took some vegetables and drove back to suburbia.

A few weeks later, I was reading Janine Benyus’ book, Innovation Inspired by Nature. The first few chapters discuss the land, feeding the world, and growing things; the term “polyculture” came up several times.  The definition, according to Oxford Dictionary, is the simultaneous cultivation or exploitation of several crops or kinds of animals.  Growing multiple species in a garden plot is actually beneficial. We’ll talk about the why and how later, but…my dad was right!! (And yes, I told him!) He said he had always had an inclination that there might be something to the idea of not weeding a garden, but he did not have anything to tell him why it would work. In the book, Janine talks with The Land Institute and describes in detail how polyculture works: ‘farmers’ are transforming agriculture by using nature the natural way.

What do I mean by “using nature the natural way?” Shouldn’t nature BE natural?! The words are derivatives of each other, after all. We have to consider the impacts that humans have had on the natural world over the years. It has been a long time since we have allowed nature to just ‘be.’ Humans sometimes have a tendency to think that, as a superior species, we know best. We want bigger. We want better. We want it faster. The Industrial Revolution has given us the means to achieve these things, but it has been at the cost of our air, soil, and water health. We grow acres of corn in nice, neat, orderly rows; acres of fields are covered with soybeans; and pastures are filled with one species of grass (hay). Lines and lines of monotonous crops. We don’t see this is nature. When we go hiking in the woods, we see varieties of species growing in what appears to be chaotic disarray—but it is actually a carefully calculated design. We have deviated very far from what nature has intended. After billions of successful years, why do humans think we know better?

Agriculture that is led by a polyculture plan is sustainable, easier, and healthier for humans and the environment. Let me make sense of this. Someone who likes cake goes to a bakery that serves only cake; the bakery has cases and cases of baked cakes ready to eat, but they also have a small table in the corner that offers salad greens in a small bowl. The cake-lover will most-likely choose to eat cake. She loves cake, and it’s in abundance. She knows salad is a better choice, and, if it was her only option, she would choose it, but she doesn’t want to walk way over to the corner when all this goodness is right here in front of her! This is how herbivores thinks, (in anthropomorphic terms). A rabbit comes across a cabbage crop on Mr. MacGregor’s farm. This is her ‘cake shop.’ Cabbages everywhere! Of course there are other yummy treats in the woods a few meters away, but why waste time and resources hopping from here to there and everywhere in between to sporadically hope to find her choice food. If Mr. MacGregor used the technique of polyculture, the rabbit would not have a buffet smorgasbord of cabbage. He would have planted a diversity of plants, making it more difficult for the rabbit to find her favorites. While she might find a plant or two, it will be more difficult to take out an entire row of cabbages. It is more likely that the rabbit would move on to Farmer Jones’ garden: a monoculture where she doesn’t have to try very hard to find treats. An added benefit of polyculture is the ability to intersperse species that are unpleasant to problem herbivores. This will lessen the interest in the garden even more.

Insect pests can also be kept in check. Companion planting causes a combination of floral scents that olfactory-relying organisms cannot recognize. Unlike in traditional gardens that give away aromatic cues to what they have available.  Camouflage helps plants hide each other in plain sight. Species that grow low to the ground are covered by grasses and other tall companions. Native organisms on native plant species will keep pests down via their presence. This is not to say that pests will never affect farms. However, we are now looking at a lower likelihood that complete infestations occur, and all of this would happen without the use of expensive and dangerous pesticides.

High quality soil and clean water are essential for all life on Earth to be successful and sustainable. Polyculture addresses these issues, as well. Plantings in a polyculture are mimetic of the growing that actually occurs on nature’s timeline. This is critical for success. Plants that need heavy watering will grow during the seasons with most of the rain; plants that require less water will grow during the hotter seasons. Root types will vary having some that hold water longer than others. They will hold the soil steady, lessening chances for erosion issues. They filter the water and fertilize the soil in different ways. All these things are done at the times of year when nature needs them to be done… one right after another. One species that soaks up the nitrogen will come to the end of its season just as another one that replaces the nitrogen starts to mature. It is a wonderful cycle that reduces the need for chemical “fixers,” like fertilizers, to replenish lost soil nutrients and to keep the water safe.

This all sounds like common sense. It probably seems to some that a blog post should not even be necessary to say all this and that these things should just happen. To you, I would remind you that it takes a long time to change mindsets that have been on one track for centuries. It might seem to some that this theory is bogus because our hungry world needs Big Ag to provide us with heaping bounties of corn. To you, I suggest considering the advantages of teaching polyculture to small, under-developed areas so that the poor may learn to feed themselves healthy food adapted to each specific environment.

For the sake of brevity, I leave you with this quote from The Land Institute. The term used, perennial, refers to crops that return each year without replanting. This quote is also given in the context of polyculture/permaculture, as this is the practice of the Institute.  “Compared with annual counterparts, perennial crops tend to have longer growing seasons and deeper rooting depths, and they intercept, retain, and utilize more precipitation. Longer photosynthetic seasons resulting from earlier canopy development and longer green leaf duration increase seasonal light interception efficiencies, an important factor in plant productivity. Greater root mass reduces erosion risks and maintains more soil carbon compared with annual crops. Annual grain crops can lose five times as much water and 35 times as much nitrate as perennial crops. Perennial crops require fewer passes of farm equipment and less fertilizer and herbicide, important attributes in regions most needing agricultural advancement.” (…)

Ask Nature

Lights and Landing Gear

Moving to Ohio from California has been a big transition. It’s more humid, people are very talkative to strangers, and there are all kinds of new insects. As someone who is very fond of bugs, this is pretty exciting for me. Since I arrived in late August, I missed the fireflies, but am eagerly looking forward to next year.

Insects are an incredibly diverse group of animals, with adaptations that many fields can benefit from studying. People look at beetles and butterflies for insights into structural color, at flies and dragonflies for flight techniques, and to ants and other hive-minded insects for social behavior interactions.  

Researchers in Korea have looked at the nanostructures of a firefly’s abdomen to determine how it affects the passage of the beetle’s bioluminescene from its photogenic layer to the outside world. By testing various heights of artificial nanostuctures, they were able to create their own lens that permitted an easier transmission of internal light.

DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) recently released a video demonstrating robotic landing legs on a helicopter. These legs, which resemble a many-jointed grasshopper’s, can be used by aircraft during takeoff and landing on unstable and uneven surfaces. Sensors guide the extension of each leg as the helicopter touches down, keeping the aircraft level.

These are just a few examples of insect-inspired biomimicry. I expect this trend will continue as people look to this amazing group of animals for biomimetic concepts in many scientific disciplines.


Kim, Jae-Jun, Youngseop Lee, Ha Gon Kim, Ki-Ju Choi, Hee-Seok Kweon, Seongchong Park, and Ki-Hun Jeong. 2012. “Biologically Inspired LED Lens from Cuticular Nanostructures of Firefly Lantern.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109 (46): 18674–78.

Darpa news site:

Environmental Epigenetics and Biomimicry

For my first blog, I’d like to talk a bit about a favorite topic of mine – environmental factors of epigenetics – and its relevance to biomimicry.

By now we all have come to see the scientific proof that genetics does not dictate our fate; we have the power to shape our life by the choices we make. Although we may still be at the surface of understanding what epigenetics has to offer, we know the way we live and eat could affect how our genes are expressed, and as a result, what proteins get activated in our body.

Interesting examples of epigenetics look at changes between identical twins over their lifespan. But humans are not the only species affected by environmental epigenetics; in this study [1] you can see how poplar tree clones responded differently to drought when grown in geographically contrasting habitats due to variations in DNA-methylation (one of the mechanisms of epigenetics).

However, this does not mean we can carelessly manipulate our planet’s environmental conditions with the hope that everyone will adapt. This news piece [2] talks about possible extinction of pandas due to our expansion into and destruction of their environments.

But on the main topic, I believe environmental factors of epigenetics can teach us quite a bit. Inspired by how sets of genes turn on or off depending on environmental conditions, causing alternations in gene expressions, could we produce materials from the same components with the ability to learn from their environment and specialize for a specific task? Do we need a product to adapt differently based on the locations to which they are assigned? 

1- Raj, S., Bräutigam, K., Hamanishi, E. T., Wilkins, O., Thomas, B. R., Schroeder, W., … Campbell, M. M. (2011). Clone history shapes Populus drought responses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(30), 12521–12526.


Biomimicry and the Arrival of Neo-Art Nouveau


Alphonse Mucha’s Four Seasons

Hi Everyone!

Thanks for checking out our blog! My name is Derek Miller, and I’m going to be working with the MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland on integrating biomimicry into education. This is my first post here, and I’m excited to be a part of this amazing group! My interests revolve around biology, as well as the arts, so it’s my goal to add a designer and artist’s perspective on biomimicry. If you wish to know more about me, feel free to check out my Contributor Bios page.


Figure 1

Art, in a very broad perspective, is a type of reaction to the human experience, both of the artist and ultimately of all mankind. The artist interprets the things he/she has discovered and experienced, and puts them in a different form. Through this process, the natural world provides a great source of inspiration and the most abundant collection of reference material. Some of the oldest art in cave paintings is drawn as a response the world around us, so it’s no surprise that discoveries in science have played a major role in the subject matter of many art styles. One of the most prominent of these styles is that of Art Nouveau, dating from around 1890-1910. First landing major recognition at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900, this versatile style called out to many forms of media from architecture and sculpture to painting and decorative arts. Ornamental pattern played a significant role in Art Nouveau design, drawing from biological forms in microscopy and botany. Other sciences that influenced Art Nouveau included neurology, zoology, psychology, and the theory of evolution, along with many other scientific breakthroughs within the 19th century. One of such is the revolutionary breakthrough made by Louis Pasteur in 1860 when he observed that microorganisms were the cause of infectious diseases. This new technology led to the establishment of cell theory. This theory, introduced by German scientists, Matthias Jakob Schleiden and Theodor Schwann between 1838-1839, stated that all organic life was made up of the same basic unit, giving all living things a degree of connectedness that became a major theme within the Art Nouveau philosophy. Use of the microscope, a new way to look at the world, allowed artists to create abstract interpretations of microscopic forms such as cells, bacteria, and so on. An example of this can be found in the work of Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). Haeckel was a zoologist that reported the findings of the Challenger Expedition (1873-1876), and is well known for his stylistic illustrations of the single-cell species of protozoa called Radiolaria. An example of this can be seen in Figure 1. Unfortunately, though well received by the public and the Art Nouveau movement, Haeckel was oftentimes ridiculed by the scientific community for his artistic freedom with his illustrations.


Figure 2

This type of inspiration drawn from nature is resurfacing in the field of biomimicry, both in the effort towards sustainability led by the fields of technology, biology, engineering, etc., and the admiration of nature’s aesthetic in art and design, creating a kind of ‘Neo-Art Nouveau’. An example of the latter can be seen in the Root Series, in which artist Steven Tobin creates steel sculptures inspired by the roots of trees. An example is shown in Figure 2. Tobin is also known for creating sculptures based on other natural forms, such as cocoons, termite hills, and bones. His portfolio can be found at

Though widely debated within the realm of biomimicry, I believe that not everything created with inspiration of nature has to support sustainability (though it is a major goal that deserves the most consideration) to be called biomimicry. The definition as such, I feel, is too limiting. Art has its own part to play in the biomimicry movement by giving aesthetic appeal and by inspiring the public to look closer at nature and the brilliant designs it uncovers. Perhaps we are trying too hard to define what biomimicry is in the sense that, like art, it is a collection of ideas and a way of thinking that isn’t easily defined. Just as we teach art, we can teach biomimicry without putting it into exact words. The point is that it is a way of thinking that will benefit mankind, and bring rise to innovation that will allow us to have a better understanding of the relationship between us and our planet.

Structural invisibility

Structural color has been a quite famous topic on this blog; which is justified as it is a feature that assures communication within many species and can be decisive in reproductive success. When it comes to defense, strategies involving pigmentation and bioluminescence to alert and dazzle potential predators are well documented. But did you know some organisms use structural color to simply disappear? Indeed, invisibility cloaks are not just a Harry Potter fantasy. Check out the following video:

While studies of structural colors usually emphasize specific flashy, attention-grabbing traits, recent studies about marine species have revealed structural colors can also be used for the opposite purpose – concealment.

The example above shows how a sea sapphire, a small crustacean, relies on photonics to mislead predators. According to the American Chemical Society, its structural invisibility is enabled by layered hexagonal guanine crystals. These nanoscopic mirrors deflect light into the UV spectrum. The more they’re angled, the more light is shifted, to the point where no visible light is reflected, and the sea sapphire is rendered invisible to the human eye and to the sea sapphire’s enemies.


(source: )

Similarly, fish have been using the guanine crystals trick. Scale orientation varies along their body length such that reflections conceal its thickness. This structural approach might be more advantageous for species with flatter morphologies. Furthermore, a study from Bristol University showed not only do sardines and herrings scales play with reflection angle but also with polarization. A highly reflective structure that keeps polarization low can produce hyper-realistic effects since the reflected image is barely distorted. As a result, fish can’t be easily distinguished from their surroundings and seem to disappear.

According to these researchers, it’s an ingenious design that outdoes current non-polarizing reflectors. On the other hand, structural reflection of UV might be more widespread than we think, it may be present in eggshells  – as studied by Daphne – or in iridescent flower petals. Since UV production requires lots of energy, a passive structure deflecting available natural light is far less energy-consuming.Therefore, who knows how these two bio-inspirations could lead to sci-fi optical systems and mind-blowing illusionism?

Articles can be checked here:     (sea sapphire)    (sardines and herrings)


Convergence: Biomimicry before it was cool

Hello Germinature,

Thank you to those who are returning readers and I would welcome newcomers interested in this thing we call biomimicry. This being my first post I realize that many of you do not know who I am. My name is Stephen Howe I am an incoming fellow and I will be working with Bendix. For the moment that is all I will say about myself but I would encourage you to read my contributor bio.

Given enough creativity Biomimicry can be applied to any facet of one’s daily life. I encountered this first hand when considering what would be the topic of my first post. I have just moved into a fixer upper in the Akron region and have been working to improve it. At the DXY Tangent event I was talking about my projects with the other fellows. I had asked them what should I write about, Daphne looked at me and said “anything you want…you could talk about how biomimicry interacts with your yard work.” I wasn’t sure how serious she was but the next day I found myself working closely with this tool in my yard. The marine biologist in me couldn’t help but connect that tool with this fish.

Copyright 2013 Simon Fraiser University CC Attribution 2.0 Generic

I wondered if in fact the person who invented the hedge trimmer was inspired by the sawfish? The short answer is no. Hedge trimming has been necessary ever since hedges were used as fences in the middle ages. Mechanical trimmers first used spinning blades and then single sided reciprocators followed by the final form the double bladed reciprocator. If you want to know more here is a link to an article outlining the history of the hedge trimmer. I was not observing biomimicry per se but in fact an example of convergence.

Convergence is an evolutionary phenomenon in which a similar adaptation is derived independently in unrelated groups of organisms. The textbook example of convergence is the torpedo shaped body plan seen in fish and aquatic birds and mammals. In order to escape predators and acquire food these organisms need to efficiently move through water. Because water is much denser than air the properties of fluid dynamics will bear heavily on how these organisms are shaped. Being fusiform reduces drag allowing the body to cut efficiently through the water minimizing the energy required and maximizing the speed of the organism.

My favorite example of convergence is the camera eye. The camera eye, a complex light bending information gathering structure, is found in some species of jellyfish, annelid, snail, spider and cephalopod. Not to mention all of the vertebrate clades. Each of these clades independently developed this kind of eye to effectively utilize light as a means of information gathering. What’s more is it seems that in each phyla these types of eyes first were developed by active hunters giving them a much greater visual acuity than other types of eye. To get the full story of the eye and to read about a plethora of astounding examples of convergence I would highly suggest reading Life’s Solution by Simon Conway Morris.

The natural world has physical laws and constraints and the biotic world will always strive to live within those constraints in the most efficient way possible. In many cases, there are only one or a few adaptive paths available that conform to these physical laws and so we see many different lineages arriving at the same solution. This in essence is convergence.

Humankind has managed to push our way against these currents by implementing massive amounts of energy and using exotic processes, we put people on the moon, split atoms, and moved mountains. But in doing so we have exhausted many important resources and generated huge quantities of harmful byproducts. However, if we work within the cosmic system we can do things sustainably and efficiently. Fortunately we have a vast databank on how to solve our problems. We live on planet earth and face the same challenges that every other organism on the planet faces. These lineages have been perfecting their adaptations for countless generations. We, observing the world around us, can emulate these living road maps on how to navigate the physical laws of the universe. In essence, Biomimicry is applied convergence; we use it as a lens through which we seek solutions to the challenges we face.

Talking about Biomimicry

It’s mind-blowing that it’s already been three years since Bill, Emily and I started the adventure of pursuing our PhDs in Biomimicry. Time has flown by. It definitely has been a challenge being part of the first cohort, but it has also been very rewarding and exciting seeing the program development first hand.

Having seven new PhD students starting this year, doubling our team, is one of those very exciting achievements! We can’t wait to collaborate with everyone, grow our knowledge by learning from the diverse backgrounds of the new students, and have interesting Biomimicry discussions and trips together.

Another rewarding accomplishment is that we are being invited more and more to give talks about our Biomimicry adventure. There is a growing interest in NEOhio to learn more about Biomimicry and be part of this movement.

In June, I was honored to share the stage with René Polin, President and Founder of Balance Inc, a design firm in Cleveland, to share our “Untold” experience at TEDxCLE. In our talk, “From Spiders to Elevators: Leveraging Biomimicry in the Design studio”, we share what it was like for a Biologist to work with a Design firm from both perspectives.

To stay on the topic of TEDx Talks, Emily will be giving one on September 29th, at TEDxUniversityofAkron. She will be sharing her Biomimicry insights and how it is to be “Breaking the Mold”.

Finally, Kelly has been selected to present her work on Biomimicry curriculum development at the 8th annual Biomimicry Education Summit in Austin, TX, on October 4th, which is held just prior to the SXSW Eco Conference.

Keep posted for more exciting news, and please share with other Biomimicry enthusiasts.

The Gap in Biomimetic Materials

In trying to find natural systems to study for my dissertation project, I’ve noticed what I see as a gap between knowledge and products. This trend is similar to what Bill described a couple of weeks ago with spider silk. We see many cool natural materials, but we don’t know exactly how to make them yet. For instance, earlier this year, a new contender for the stronger natural material was discovered in limpet teeth. The tensile strength of this biomineralized material was measured to be 3.0 to 6.5 GPa.1 To put that in perspective, that is about 100 times stronger than typical polymers and even 5 times stronger than steel.2-3 We know the mineralized goethite structure is high strength, and we know some of the mechanisms of biomineralization. However, having an unbreakable plate based on the limpet tooth may be a ways off.

I think there are a few factors which create this gap from inspiration to products. One is the ways in which we create our products. Melting and quenching is common throughout metals and polymers with casting, injection molding, extruding, etc. If we want to make nanoscale designs or objects we can use lithography, deposition, and other techniques. Nature uses nearly ambient temperature and self-assembly to create hierarchical materials over many length scales. Unless we can find scalable methods to produce hierarchy, we will not be able to create products based on these cool natural materials (or they will have very niche applications).

This leads into what I really think will be the limiting factor for biomimetic materials: complexity. Natural materials are not simple. There are many factors influencing a wide variety of functions. For instance, take the gecko adhesion system. It provides a directional, reversible, non-matting, non-sticky by default, and self-cleaning adhesion system which attaches strongly with minimal preload and detaches quickly and easily.4 The early thought for the gecko adhesion system was to look at the hair structure. The first synthetic versions simply created small pillars to try to achieve the Van der Waals adhesion characteristic of the gecko adhesion system.5-6 However, just copying one aspect of the gecko structure did not lead to all of the properties listed above. As more research was performed on the gecko itself, more aspects of the setae were discovered, which led to shifts in the synthetic versions. Two notable examples are the addition of spatulae for the pillars and oriented synthetics.7-8

I think we will need to be patient with the research of biomimetic materials. The systems which we are trying to mimic are complicated, and it would be hasty to believe that our first shot at a synthetic material without sufficient knowledge of the natural system will produce a successful product. It will take time, but proper understanding of the natural system will help to highlight the structures necessary to produce desired functions within synthetics. In addition, producing synthetics as we go can help illuminate the structures responsible for functions as well. If we realize that we may not get it right on the first try, then we can create realistic expectations for the realm of biomimetic materials. There are biological materials out there with fascinating properties, and with time, I believe we will be able to learn from nature and synthesize our own materials.



Asa H. Barber, Dun Lu, Nicola M. Pugno. J.R. Soc. Interface 2015 12 20141326; DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2014.1326.Published 18 February 2015.

Autumn, K. “Properties, Principles, and Parameters of the Gecko Adhesive System.” Biological Adhesives. Springer: (2006).

Sitti, M. and Fearing R. IEEE-Nano. (2002)

Geim et al. Nature Materials. (2003)

Lee et al. Applied Physics Letters. (2008)

Northen et al. Adv. Mater. (2008)

Summer Problem Based Learning

GLBio has been pitching in with regional teachers from around Ohio to help develop Biomimicry-inspired Problem Based Learning curriculum, an instructor’s day is packed, between meeting testing requirements and fulfilling all the daily student/learner educational needs.  Biomimicry can be a method to condense/magnify learning and help to ignite passion in learners to discover.  A workshop offered this summer by GLBio was created to help instructors develop meaningful learner-driven curriculum that could meet all their classroom needs.  In addition to offering ample real information and explanation of the biomimetic method, the workshop content demonstrates how biomimicry is an aid to teach existing subjects with nature as co-teacher, not an additional subject in and of itself.

For instance in my recent lessons shared at the NIHF (National Inventors Hall of Fame) school, I covered a unit based on the Living Machine® system*.  The nature of the lesson is designed to be one of original discovery and self-guided learning, where a teacher could embed any desired learning outcomes:

  • The learning aids arrive with a silver case and prepackaged boxes. They would explain that the supplies arrived as a challenge for the students to try to meet.  The aids would further state that they knew very little about the challenge, except that if the students chose to take it on they were required to follow through.  The aids would make it clear that they are in the dark as much as the students and that any information gathered was going have to be done by the class.
  • The box is filled with unknowns, samples of mud and water, wetland plants with and without labels.
  • The silver case contains limited information supplied by five different companies about individual company needs.
  • The class would determine for themselves the potential for the Living Machine®as one of many possible solutions, individually finding the information themselves through trying to address the common needs of the separate companies.
  • The class would have opportunity to ask further directed questions of the companies and to research the problems until they all had the solutions needed.
  • Individual group presentations, as well as working living machine®models (or other models if the class went another route), would be constructed at the lesson’s end.

*(The Living Machine® is an intensive bioremediation system invented in 1979 that can also produce beneficial byproducts, such as re-use­quality water, ornamental plants and plant products—for building material, energy biomass, animal feed.  Aquatic and wetland plants, bacteria, algae, protozoa, plankton, snails and other organisms are used in the system to provide specific cleansing or trophic functions.)

The unit I offered at NIHF was completely learner-driven and cross-disciplinary.  Mathematics was used to identify company needs from supplied graphs and could be used in further iterations to calculate flow rates, and interpret graphs of water usage, and waste if a class had more time.  Language arts was utilized to make clear presentations, and working prototypes were engineered.  The class could then explore the principles of design used in biomimicry to measure the effectiveness of all of their solutions.  The lesson allowed the students to tap into all their knowledge to complete the challenges.  The Living Machine® was one of the more intensive unit plans; several other lessons conducted in Lorain County and different Ohio school districts by GLBio education fellows and project managers brought biomimicry into the classroom in easy, digestible chunks, each of these offering compelling opportunities for educators to meet their classroom learning outcomes.  Some of these were shared at the summer workshop.  Projects included:

The penguin supercavitation lesson:

  • Where a young class of Kindergarten students explored how penguins can swim faster with the use of air bubbles.
  • The class of young learners tested models in water that helped to illustrate the faster movement of objects through air as opposed to water (to make the connection to the increased speed of the penguin water movement).
  •         Once the idea was understood the learners brainstormed possible ideas for ways that people could develop and use the same idea.
  • The lesson was very kinesthetic with the students pretending to bundle up in warm clothing for their adventure and looking on the globe for the route to be taken.
  • An opportunity for non-standard measurement (a tool for number-sense building) was used as learners tried to imagine how many of them, arms outstretched would make up the length of albatross wings.

The Stay Cool Design Challenge

  • Creature Cards were handed out that showed various plants and animals that have unique ways of keeping cool.
  • Based upon the creature cards charrette teams brainstormed ideas for products that people could make to cool a variety of objects (like houses and cars).
  • At the end of a period teams pitched their ideas for products to one another.

The Classic Package Design Lesson with a Twist

  • This multi-day lesson allows groups to study how organisms in nature protect and “package” themselves.
  • Much like the traditional egg drop challenge with tape and straws and so forth, this lesson more closely examines objects like the egg itself, helicopter maple seeds or honeybee hives and other natural packages.
  • After much work and research the class presents their ideas to the community at large at a public event, some having built actual models to accompany their solutions and discoveries.

Each lesson aided the exploration of existing curriculum (whether math and language arts, wetland science, infrastructure and community planning, non-standard measurement methods, geography, Antarctic inhabitants, scientific experimentation methods, engineering or critical thinking), instead of adding to the already heavy curriculum requirements teachers faced.  Students, teachers, and coaches were thrilled at the level of participation and involvement in all cases.  The summer workshop explored all of these lessons and brought educators together to discover new ideas and approaches to their classrooms.  The summer’s first educator’s professional development session began June 15th and ran through June 19th.  This annual event brought educators in from across Northeast Ohio and will only continue to grow.

Growing a Network

I wanted to take the time this week to briefly reflect on how much Biomimicry has grown as a discipline and give a public service announcement to attest to that fact. Although we are still in the nascent stages of growth when it comes to a discipline, I think it’s impressive to see the scope of just how much Biomimicry has grown. I sometimes think of us as the mighty, yet highly underrated cellular slime mold network: we can impressively exist individually, but working in sync, we form networks with nodes and highly efficient links to form a remarkable superorganism sharing information and resources.

In a regularly cited Biomimicry example, professor Atsushi Tero of Hokkaido University placed oat flakes in the same position as major cities along the Tokyo subway network. Upon placing slime mold onto a flake, the network grew to closely resemble that of the Tokyo subway system. Biomimicry 3.8, in my mind-map, was the first “oat flake” and from this first bit of nourishment, the network has grown to a number of hubs around the world in an extraordinarily short duration of time.

A testament to the reach of whence we first started, is the upcoming SXSWEco event and the 8th annual Biomimicry Education Summit in October, with Biomimicry being a key theme running throughout the conference. There are a remarkable eight panels or talks that specifically focus on Biomimicry. Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Institute of Art’s own Doug Paige will be a co-speaker, and four of us fellows traveling to Austin to attend.   An event like this bringing so many Biomimicry-focused minds together will only serve to strengthen the overall network of the Biomimicry superorganism and make our “oat flake” hubs and resulting connections stronger.