This semester, most of the fellows are participating in a design course. Though I have been working with my corporate sponsor for almost a year at this point, it is interesting to utilize the biomimicry design process in an interdisciplinary group, with designers, engineers, and biologists working together to tackle problems. What I have personally noted from my experience thus far is the rapid ability of these teams to translate biological inspiration into innovative ideas. Because I do not have background in biology, searching for and understanding biological systems which fit my problems can be a bit taxing. I utilize the resources which are currently out there, and do not always find that for which I am looking. Sometimes I’ll find papers, but I will get lost in the details. Working as a team with biologists has been much different, in terms of being able to extract the lessons behind the natural systems, without having to sift through the many details, but also in terms of accessing a wealth of natural systems which I would not have been easily able to find on my own.
I say this in order to highlight two of the key aspects of bioinspiration: interdisciplinary thought and collaborative effort. If you are familiar with bioinspiration, then you will surely be familiar with the interdisciplinary aspect. Bioinspiration encompasses the intersection between biology, engineering, design, business, and art. Practitioners in each field have unique thought processes for understanding or creating something new. When the fields come together in the process of biomimetic thinking, new ideas can be created through the lens of considering a natural system and bringing together different ways of thinking. Current biological thought on a subject can be created while the subject is examined for potential applications. For instance, the details and necessary components for understanding the gecko adhesion system have developed as the demand for gecko adhesives has increased.
Bioinspiration is not only the overlap of fields, however. As I can attest from my experience in personal research and research in a team, bioinspiration is also the intersection of people. Biologists, engineers, designers, businesspeople, and artists can come together to create something new. Each person has his or her own experience and understanding which can help finalize differing aspects of the product. Personal interest in certain areas can also be incorporated. A biologist might have a love for plants. An engineer might really like bio-based plastics. An artist may have a fascination with abstraction. The individuals themselves can bring forward certain ideas because of who they are individually. One could simply divide the work on bioinspiration into each person’s area of expertise, but the beauty of the collaborative effort in bioinspiration comes from connection and translation of the ideas. In these moments, people are able to bounce ideas off of each other, and clarify difficult concepts, which could help lead people in real-time down trains of thought which may not have ever been achieved from individual research. The experiences of individuals and discussions among team members might allow for bioinspiration in ways that a simple overlap of fields of study would not encompass.
I do not know if there will ever be a truly inedpendent biomimetic researcher who comes up with ideas and makes products by himself or herself. The way I see it, the biomimetic researcher is one piece of the puzzle not only in field of knowledge, but also in personal experience. By bringing together various people into a team, it provides a richness to the product, driven from the collective knowledge and effort of a group united in something which none of them could fully grasp on their own. And that is where the fun begins.