My name is Elena Stachew and as of January 2017, I am the Biomimicry PhD Fellow for Biohabitats, Cleveland Water Alliance (CWA) and Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Check out my biography here. Although every fellow’s schedule is unique, we each have to balance our time between sponsor(s), research and other program responsibilities. Though I am still learning the ins and outs, I thought I would give a better sense of what that balance can look like by describing my typical week as a new fellow:
- Mondays & Tuesdays – Biohabitats office
Living in Cleveland, I love the start of the week as my commute is just to the opposite side of town, in Little Italy – University Circle. I haven’t started taking Cleveland’s rail line (RTA) yet, but I plan to soon in order to cut down on driving. Biohabitats Great Lakes Regional Office is housed in Murray Hill Galleries, an old school building converted into a hodgepodge of art galleries, boutique shops, law & architect firms, music studios and a yoga studio. I also enjoy being close to my alma mater, Case Western Reserve University, as I am able to meet former professors and colleagues for lunch on occasion!
On Mondays, Biohabitats has morning weekly staff meetings and in the afternoons, I have a weekly check in with Chris Streb, an ecological engineer and Bioworks team lead based in the Baltimore office, by phone. Bioworks is Biohabitats’ research, development and innovation arm, learn more here.
Only just shy of two months in, I take the days in the office to:
- Review literature on ecosystem services and metrics,
- Learn the Biohabitats consulting practice areas of ecological restoration, landscape architecture and regenerative design,
- Talk with interested employees about their level of knowledge in biomimicry and active projects,
- Explore Biohabitats Technical Resources library,
- And read through my RSS feeds and Google alerts on biomimicry and other relevant topics.
If I find an article on biomimicry interesting and/or relevant, I post on Yammer – a Microsoft social network collaborative platform that Biohabitats uses.
My days involve a lot of reading and asking questions, and the first month involved several meetings with my three sponsors, but eventually, I’ll try my hand at applying biomimicry thinking to an active restoration, urban design or stormwater management project, post exploratory topics on Biohabitats Rhizome Blog or Leaf Litter quarterly newsletter, and host Brain Gardens and Walkabouts (Biohabitats terms for ‘lunch n’ learns’ and ‘end of the day brainstorming’ respectively).
I am also learning Biohabitats entire project process from client proposal submission to post-project monitoring in order to better understand how to add biomimicry as a value-added service. I was recently able to participate in an interview for the City of Cuyahoga Falls of Biohabitats design proposal for an ecological restoration project on Kelsey Creek.
I have also traveled some, to ODNR’s Office of Coastal Management in Sandusky and Biohabitats’ corporate headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.
I snapped a few photos of their beautiful headquarters during my visit. One is shown here. There were so many plants; I immediately felt as if I walked into a botanical garden!
- Wednesdays– Environmental Engineering Design & Biohabitats
Wednesday mornings, I have a class in Environmental Engineering Design at the University of Akron. The commute is 45 minutes to an hour. The class is about drinking water and wastewater treatment systems, and last week, I completed a group design project on a proposal for a groundwater treatment system of chlorinated solvents. I generally give myself an hour after class for any meetings scheduled with professors as I am still figuring out my adviser and advisory committee, then I drive back to Biohabitats to finish out the remainder of the work day. The last two weeks were an exception (hence the word – ‘typical’), as I needed more time on campus during the week to meet with my fellow classmates to work on this design project.
- Thursdays & Fridays – University of Akron
Thursday afternoons, I have a class in Biomimicry Design & Application, where we are exploring bio-inspired ways to improve exercise equipment on long-term spaceflight missions in partnership with NASA Glenn Research Center’s Human Research Program. I come in late Thursday mornings to spend time on class readings and homework, meet with students in my classes for our design projects, as well as professors re: advisory committee and potential thesis topics.
Fridays, I have Environmental Engineering Design in the morning, followed by our afternoon Integrated Biosciences (IB) guest lecture series. I’ve heard interesting presentations on swarm intelligence, fish locomotion, architectural production using robotics and applied biomimicry. We are also able to participate in student lunches with our guest speakers before their lecture.
This past week, I helped organize the schedule of guest lecturer Julian Vincent, a retired professor from the University of Oxford active in the ontologies of biomimicry. See the following recent article for an overview of the topic: The trade-off- a central concept in biomimetics – published in 2016 by Bioinspired, Biomimetic
and Nanobiomaterials. I helped with the logistics of an all-day ontologies workshop followed by dinner, and a visit to Cleveland Institute of Art and discussion with Doug Paige, an industrial design professor and faculty partner in the Biomimicry Fellowship Program at the University of Akron.
As my schedule allows (which isn’t much!) and per my graduate student contract, I also serve as a QA/QC Contract Technician for the nuclear division of Five Star Products – a vestige of my former working life. The company manufactures safety-related concrete & grout products in Chardon, OH for nuclear power plants, for use in the construction of reactor bases, secondary containment and cooling towers.
I hope this gives you, the readers, a sense of how crazy yet exciting the life of a Biomimicry PhD Fellow can be! I am looking forward to the summer, in which I’ll have more time to spend with my three sponsors. The plan is to continue to explore potential thesis topics and learn how to connect my eventual thesis with my sponsor work program in the form of applied and practical research.
Look for more updates on this blog in the future, and feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Cheers and I look forward to the journey ahead!
Dear GermiNature readers,
This is the second to last (if not the last) blog post that I’ll write on GermiNature; therefore, I would like to take the time to reflect on what I have accomplished and gained in the past five years. Continue reading
Hi all, Thanks again for tuning in. I recently had the opportunity to speak at the first annual national biomimicry forum and education summit. The following is a transcript of the talk I gave including some of the associated imagery. Hope you all enjoy Fossil Doesn’t Equal Failure: Continue reading
Greetings! The case study I promised you in my last post documenting a successful implementation of biomimicry at my corporate sponsor, GOJO Industries, has finally published! It is featured in the most recent issue of Research-Technology Management, a leading source of knowledge and best practices on innovation management for leaders of research, development, and engineering worldwide. You can access the article, titled “Biomimicry: Streamlining the Front End of Innovation for Environmentally Sustainable Products, here. Let me know what you think!
In other news, I was invited by the Austen BioInnovation Institute to give a series of lectures on the ‘how-to’ of biomimicry to 40 high-achieving high school students enrolled in the 2016 BioInnovation Academy. The academy encourages students to explore solutions to real-life health and medical problems using a variety of innovation methods. This year the focus is reducing rates of concussion, so part of my lecture was on my own experiences as co-founder of a tech startup in this space. (Bill and my startup, Hedgemon, is developing a hedgehog-inspired impact protection technology, with initial focus on R&D of a safety liner for football helmets.) In a testament to the impact Great Lakes Biomimicry is making with their educational programs, HALF the students attending my first lecture were already familiar with the term biomimicry. Incredible!
After my lecture I tried out a pair of the Austen BioInnovation Institute’s concussion goggles, which simulate symptoms of traumatic brain injury such as dizziness, visual disconnect, and disorientation. My attempt at a game of catch while wearing the goggles was pathetic. The goggles make you look like a minion!
Happy Fourth of July to our American readers!
Two weeks to finishing my first academic year, I’m feeling inspired to talk about our course on developing a product using biomimicry; Michael introduced it here. For this course, we worked with students from the Cleveland Institute of Art and Nottingham Spirk. Nottingham Spirk (NS) gave us the problem and some deadlines. Milestones we had were for coming up with areas we’d like to target, developing the concepts, and finally refining our product designs.
What is the first step to go from biology to a product or vice versa? It was a bit messy for me, considering I am also still learning about many biological organisms, but I am pleased with our results and the progress we made.
First, we worked on our target audience, drawing mind maps of stakeholders and key opportunities. We divided into subgroups based on our interest in particular key opportunity areas. There was only one condition: having almost an equal number of Biomimicry Fellows from University of Akron biomimicry and designers from the Cleveland Institute of Art on every team.
And then we started… Not sure how to go about it, we looked at current products, specific issues within our key opportunity area, as well as asknature.org, other books and papers on animal’s adaptaptions. By end of February, we were ready to give a report to NS about the issues we were targeting and organisms that could potentially help us and got their feedback.
Our next step was to develop concepts by end of March. Here, we needed to read more and actually think of a specific problem and solution. I would say, while researching current market, it was not difficult to see where we can introduce new products and what’s missing. The more challenging part was abstracting ideas from biology. We had a format to follow similar to asknature.org: it included writing first the abstracted function, then the strategy the model organism uses and finally extracting design principles. This time NS were more specific on which ideas they were interested in having us pursue and which they were not. Then it was time to form new groups based on the latest product ideas we were moving forward with. Now, for our final work, my team focused on one specific product and our concept looked to many organisms (from ducks to rabbits) for inspiration. Our final report is today. yay!
Couple of things I learned:
– It was wonderful to work in groups of various specialties (mine included industrial designer, polymer scientist, product designer and me)
– Drawing/talking about ideas helped in better grasping the biological function.
– When there is no actual structure to follow, the flexibility lends to creativity.
– Having many groups, it was interesting to see what each team has come up with and inspirations are endless.
– Designers are great in making an idea come alive and look appealing!
– There are many complicated texts in biology for non-biologists, but, knowing what function you’d like to learn about makes it much easier to research and pictures do speak 1000 words.
– I’m more excited today than when I joined the biomimicry degree.
Till next time, Happy Biomimicking!
The topic of this post was motivated by a simple question I had to ask myself twice in the last 6 months : why can’t the internet tell me how a peacock manages its own tail? For one project, I was mainly interested in folding mechanisms. In another unrelated occasion, powerful lifting was the desired feature.
Indeed, as I have been experiencing and practicing more in the biomimetic realm, through different projects with different objectives and strategies, I have been repeatedly coming across the same type of challenges. For those who are not anticipating this before diving into a biomimicry career, let me describe some.