Category: Documentary

Biomimicry: What About the Why?

In her article, “Towards a Deeper Philosophy of Biomimicry,” Freya Mathews argues that biomimicry is philosophically under-developed. The current objective of biomimicry is to reorganize what and how we make things, instead of why we make things. Focusing on the what and how presumes a shift in why (i.e. a shift in the maker’s mindset) will follow. It presumes that the act of emulating natural forms and processes delivers increased consciousness of the principles of natural systems, and eventually, behavioral alignment with those principles. But it is dangerous to presume a shift in why. Given the current state of our environment we assume far too great a risk by delaying attention to the why. To accelerate a mindset shift, we must address the following questions: Why do we make things? What optimal future state are we pursuing through biomimetic innovation? Answers to these questions will help us develop a more robust biomimicry philosophy.

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Project Wild Thing

Hi germiNature readers,

Nature is the key component for Biomimicry, but have you struggled convincing yourself, your children or your friends to go out in nature more often? Do you feel like people think you are a hippie because you love nature so much?


Project Wild Thing (click to see trailer) is the documentary for you. In the film, David Bond, Marketing Director for Nature, takes on the task of convincing people to get outside. As a worried dad seeing his children becoming addicted to TV and games, rather than playing outside, he tries to promote nature again. The film explores the increasing disconnection between British children and the natural world around them.

Although many children think nature is boring and unattractive, the film shows that this idea can easily be changed. However, one of the main challenges of getting this change to happen falls in the hands of the parents themselves. They worry about letting their children outside; kids are being overloaded by homework; and parents are becoming lazy themselves – they’d rather let their kids watch TV than go play in a forest with them.

This realization should be interesting for parents in general and a biomimicist, in particular. I’m going to float three here…

– With the support of branding and marketing, nature could once again be a popular ‘free product’ for kids. Less waste, less money, more playful area.

– Letting your kids be active at a young age should support an active lifestyle as an adult. It’s easily accepted that you are healthier, happier and more productive when you are active. Additionally, playing in nature provides many different sensory experiences that promote brain development, which are just not replicable with virtual play.

– A big and frankly terrifying question is what might happen if a generation becomes completely disconnected from the natural world… This goes back to the “Ethos” of Biomimicry. You care for things you love. But you can only treasure nature if you have had great interactions with it.

Message? Stop staring at your computer screen and act. You can start by looking at his website: (oh no, wait, that’s requires you to sit at your computer…but still go have a look when you have time).

A popular science YouTube channel worth subscribing to

I have stumbled upon several interesting videos on a YouTube channel call SmarterEveryDay every so often in the past, but hadn’t browsed the channel thoroughly until very recently. What got my attention this time is a video that I called “a different kind of swarm”, which documents an interesting and unique behavior of a group of caterpillars. This kind of caterpillar swarm behavior is much different from the swarm examples that we’re typically familiar with, such as a school of fish, a flock of birds or an ant colony. The video below not only documents the bizarre mode of locomotion from the caterpillars, but also provids a potential explanation for the evolution of this strategy and identifies the bio-inspired design principles abstracted from it.

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Maker Movement: A Driver for Biomimicry

Last week we celebrated Bill’s advancement to PhD candidacy by watching the Maker documentary together while feasting on Chinese BBQ. “Maker” is a documentary on the rapidly growing Maker Movement and its impact on society, culture and economy. Recent advances in automated manufacturing (e.g. 3D printing) is driving the Maker Movement, which is powered by DIYers who want to build their own things rather than buying them. As a result of the Maker Movement, more and more makerspaces are popping up offering community-based industrial spaces equipped with cutting-edge manufacturing tools. Further supporting the Maker Movement is a shift towards open-source design templates and proliferation of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. These trends are enhancing collaboration between tinkerers around the globe. As proven by nature, mixing up the gene pool helps speed innovation.

“Maker” is the follow-up of another documentary, “Design & Thinking.” Both are efforts of Muris Media. Bill knows the director of the two films, Mu-Ming Tsai, through the Innovation Open House (IOH) platform. IOH, founded by Taiwanese entrepreneur Chuang Chih-Chao, is a place where prospective students deciding which university is right for them can review personal insights from current students and alumni from countless universities with unique degree offerings. Bill shared his experience studying biomimicry at the University of Akron on IOH, and Mu-Ming described his experience of the film department at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. After connecting with Mu-Ming through IOH, Bill watched his documentary “Design & Thinking” and really liked it, which is why he recommended all of the biomimicry fellows get together, watch, and discuss the “Maker” follow-up.

The documentary shows great projects and recent advancement of the Maker Movement. Amongst the interviewees are some of high-profile players: Carl Bass (CEO of Autodesk), Charles Adler (Co-Founder of Kickstarter), Danae Ringelmann (Founder of Indiegogo), and Jim Newton (Founder of TechShop). Interviewees comment on the fact that the way of the future is democratized, small batch manufacturing, with more customization. For many years, society undervalued maker classes like woodworking and basket weaving, but creativity expressed through making is making a comeback.

The Maker movement, coupled with the open-source and crowdfunding movements, can play an important role for further driving and supporting biomimicry efforts not only because it encourages more and more people to make prototypes and test out their ideas, but also because it facilitates connections between distant makers with like interests. The scientific world can learn something from the Maker Movement too: open source inspires. The scientific community should push academic journals to make papers more widely accessible, and not make the scientists themselves pay for both the publication and acquisition of papers.

We strongly encourage the makers of these inspiring documentaries to make their next documentary about Biomimicry!

* This blogpost was written by Bill, Daphne and Emily

Other links:

– The Maker’s magazine has a post that is a must read for everyone interested in making your own Makerspace:

– Wiki house, an open house construction set:

– Digital Designs:

– Autodesk blogs:

– Shapeways 3D Printing Service and Marketplace:

Our World is Getting Trashed

In light of Ocean Day, which was on June 8th, this blog post is about the plastic soup drifting in our waters. Waste is a global problem that is created by our consumer-culture and economy. A radical change of our industrial processes and individual mindset is needed; this is being advocated in numerous new ideologies and strategies like Biomimicry, Cradle-to-Cradle, Circular Economy, and Blue Economy. These approaches encourage recycling and re-use of wastes as inputs for other value chains.

Awareness is one key element to support a necessary mindset shift. This 2012 documentary, called Trashed, is a must-see. It is very confrontational, but left me feeling motivated to contribute a change effort! And even John F. Kennedy believes in me: “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

It’s impossible to summarize this documentary, because I think every minute is important. Also, images can be much more powerful than words. So please take the time to watch it, but, here’s a teaser of some shocking facts covered in the documentary:

–       There is 6 times more plastic waste than life (i.e. zooplankton) in the surface waters of our oceans. Zooplankton is an essential organism, as it is at the bottom of our food chain, and produces large portions of the oxygen we breathe.

–       Plastic particles leach chemicals into our waters. This  attracts other chemicals making the substances even more dangerous. These small particles are being ingested by marine organisms and stored in their body fat. The further down the food chain, the worse the contamination gets. This effect is called bio-magnification.

–       Plastic is built to be long-lasting and this is great for durable products. The problem we’ve created is caused by throwing plastics away after one usage. We use it for several minutes, at best a few days, but the actual plastic is around for a very long time after disposal.

One difficulty is that people love their habits and are resistant to change. How many times have you thought before grocery shopping “This time I’ll try to buy something different!” But still, you come home with most of the same products you always buy. Almost all of these products are wrapped in plastic packaging, and in turn put in plastic bags. Both the package and the bag quickly end up in your garbage can. This gets picked up, and you don’t see or think about it anymore. BUT… you might be surprised, one day you could actually get back in touch with your plastic waste, albeit in a very different, disturbing form!

See here your plastic bag’s life:

Let’s make it a challenge: try to not consume any new plastic product (packages, bags, cups, cutlery etc.) this week. You’ll quickly be amazed by how much plastic we are using; it’s everywhere! Even better, share some of your creative solutions for not using plastic. I start now! What about you? Let’s try making a new habit, together. This book could help us: The Power of Habit (by Charles Duhigg), it’s a great read!


Related info: Planet Ocean, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand (freely available on YouTube), Midway, The Ocean Cleanup, Charles Moore’s TED talk: Seas of plastic

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A New World System

A New World System is a 2012 socio-critical documentary written by Jacque Fresco and directed by Roxanne Meadows, which gives an outlook of how our world could look if we redesigned our entire society for the needs of human-beings and a sustainable future of our planet. Fresco’s views and criticism of the system that we are living in has strongly impacted my personal worldview, thus, I would like to share this documentary.

The documentary summarizes the ideas of the so called Venus Project launched by Fresco and Meadows in 1995 in Venus, Florida. The Venus Project proposes a resource-based, rather then a monetary-based economy with technology and science guiding society instead of politics and religion. Fresco, who considers himself a social engineer, was born in 1916. His interest in social engineering arose from observations he made during the Great Depression, starting in 1929. During the Great Depression, Fresco realized that all required resources that people need were still available. People just did not have the money to buy them. Thus, the depression was not connected to any shortage of food or water but only created by the failure of the financial system. This is where Fresco’s life long quest of redesigning our society began.

In the beginning of the documentary Fresco criticizes our debts-based monetary system. He points out that we have the chance for a sustainable future but we are approaching a point of no return, which will result in a social collapse if we remain on the same path. Fresco primarily criticizes the fact that money is valued higher in our society than the well-being of people. He also points out the materialistic nature of American culture – a point with which I totally agree. As a European, I have observed that especially in the US the media and society are extremely consumer oriented, conditioning their people to buy the newest and most up-to-date products in order to pump more and more money into the monetary machinery. Most of those products are designed to fail after a certain period of use. This is what Fresco describes as planned obsolescence; a total waste of resources and energy.

So how could we redesign our system in order to create a sustainable future for all of us? Fresco believes we need to learn to adapt to changing conditions like nature does, instead of repeating the same mistakes over and over again. We need to realize that managing our resources by monetary control is no longer relevant and in fact, is counter-productive to our survival. We do have the knowledge and technology to solve almost all of our problems. Also, we do have enough resources for all people on Earth; we just have to learn to manage them intelligently. This is where Fresco sees a resource-based economy as the best alternative. All goods and services have to be available to everyone without the use of money. In other words: Earth’s resources have to be declared as common heritage for all of the world’s people. I personally see a strong connection to nature here and a closer look through a biomimetic lens could make us realize what is going wrong in our culture: In contrast to our society, nature adapts to the level of resource availability. Biological organisms only consume what they need and are locally attuned to what is available. To allow us to learn from those principles in nature, we would have to change our mindset and accept that not all resources are available in unlimited quantities at every location on our planet. As Roxanne Meadows says: “We have to understand that we are a part of nature and not separate from it”.

More into detail, Fresco imagines a new world system as follows: All planning must be based on the carrying capacity of the Earth. This defines the redesign of the infrastructure using system’s thinking. First of all, global resource surveys are needed to analyze which physical resources are available. Based on the surveys, production centers have to be built at the right locations. Resource production and distribution has to be coordinated by a dynamic cyber network control system. Electrical sensors access the information of resource availability in every city, warehouse etc. All decisions have to be made for the needs of the society.

Fresco also has plans for how cities of the future should look. He holds the view that it is better to build a new city from scratch than maintain an old one. Fresco’s cities of the future would be embedded in nature and have an efficient transportation system, automated and self-assembling housing structures, resource centers, recreational areas, agriculture farms etc. All structures should be built from reusable materials and powered by renewable energy. Everything should be available to everyone without a price tag due to a high production rate that does not allow any scarcity. This would also lower crime rates. More critically, crime would be avoided by the right education, which is the basic foundation of every modern society. Fresco points out that education and experience shape human behavior. Behavior is not genetically predetermined and genes have no influence on the values of the individual. According to Fresco one of our highest goals has to be the education of our people to the highest possible level.

People might think now: “How should a system work where all resources are free for everyone? Why should I go to work if I don’t need to earn money to buy stuff?” Fresco points out that the incentive to work for most people is passion rather than money. All famous inventors or scientists were driven by curiosity, creativity, and the search for the next challenge. This is our human nature and  every person would work with passion if there would be the opportunity for everyone to pursue their intended career. In such a society all boring repetitive jobs would have to be automated by technology. Today our technology would already be able to realize that, but in a monetary-driven system, unnecessary jobs are maintained, rather than abolished, since a reduction of jobs would have negative effects on the economy and the individual. Thus, we need to realize that our society has to be problem solving-oriented instead of money-oriented.

All in all, A New World System presents an impressive futuristic concept of a visionary man who is willing to break the chains of our society and to give an outlook of how the future might look if we try our best to make a change. According to Fresco, a society without a vision of how the future could be will make the same mistakes over and over again. Fresco also states that he does not have all the answers to the question of how to build the “perfect” society but he knows that we can do better than we are and make improvements through incremental change – I agree.