Biomimicry in Fab Education

Cleveland-based company Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM (TIES is one of my sponsors for the University of Akron’s Biomimicry Fellowship Program. TIES is focusing on Fab Lab education, outreach and implementation for 2016. Fab lab was conceptualized at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the 1990s and is the educational outreach component of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms. Fab labs are part of a global network and are a technical platform for learning, innovation and invention. In order to be a fab lab, certain qualifications must be met including a common set of tools and processes, minimum machine and materials requirements, and public access to the space.

My first project as an education fellow is to introduce biomimicry into the fab lab at MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland, Ohio. Launched in 2009, MC2 was the first public school to house a fab lab in the United States. MC2’s regular public access on January 30th will be the debut of the Biomimicry Fab Lab for which fellow University of Akron student Banafsheh Khakipoor and I created fab lab content. Biomimicry student Ariana Rupp assisted with machinery and project capabilities.

senai-fablab-in the CTS Automation and Simulation-Rio  SENAI FABLAB Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The public access format is essentially an open house. Our main objective was to address the gap in students learning how to use the machines to applying the skills to real world problems. We also wanted to foster critical thinking throughout the entire fabrication process from inspiration to material choices to product application. The main challenge we faced was that we needed a lesson that could apply to students dropping by for 15 minutes or working for hours. Although the lessons could be applied using cutting edge machines like 3D printers and CNC mills, the same lesson needs to apply to those simply wanting to use a vinyl cutter for stickers. The biological and design principle of form follows function was where we found our lesson plan inspiration.

We started with the simplest project which posed the biggest challenge for biomimicry lesson planning. The students already had covered fractal stickers and I was not sure how to incorporate biomimicry into a vinyl cut sticker project that was more advanced than bio-inspired design. Ariana unraveled the nuances of material choice for vinyl and how the product would differ based on form differences. In addition, biomimicry applied to material decomposition (or lack thereof) once the product was discarded added another level of consideration. Students will be asked how form promotes or inhibits the biodegradable process. What structures in nature are ideal for decomposition? When something as simple as stickers are examined from material choice to sustainability, they can be a complete biomimicry lesson!




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