Earlier this month, August 2016, I had the privilege of leading an evening reception for the NASA and OAI Biomimicry Summit in Cleveland, Ohio. (OAI = Ohio Aeronautical Institute). A group of 60 attendees gathered inside the Primates, Cats, and Aquatics Building of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo as we engaged in a discussion of Biomimicry in Your Backyard. I selected three common backyard critters to demonstrate how easy it is to find inspiration in the spaces around us every day: La Plata Armadillo, Eastern Box Turtle, and Children’s Python. This week’s blog will feature our one and only “Chaco” the La Plata Armadillo (Tolypeutes matacus).
As we’ve discussed before, biomimicry is accomplished by two possible methods: 1) Start with a question and look to nature for a solution, or 2) Start with an inspiring organism and discover what problems can be solved using that particular structure or behavior. Working in the zoo setting, I typically start with the latter. Whether I am preparing for our Biomimicry/Ecophysiology class within our Advanced Inquiry Program through Miami University of Ohio and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, answering a question from one of our educators while preparing a program, or speaking at an event for Great Lakes Biomimicry, this is the case. I am given an animal and I start my research. My starting point is generally: What makes this organism unique? It is in this uniqueness that inspiration jumps out at you! I encourage all of you to try this any time you have a moment outdoors to think. It is really amazing what a person can dream up once the trigger is pulled. We will start at this point with our armadillo inspiration.
What makes an armadillo unique? Particularly, the La Plata Armadillo? I would play the Jeopardy music in the background, but I don’t think it will take you that long to come up with the answer: the carapace. The scutes are hard dermal bone with keratin—very similar to a tortoise shell. La Plata, also commonly called the 3-banded armadillo, has a shoulder plate and hip plate with dermal hinges to allow flexibility. This is the only species of armadillo that is able to roll into a complete ball, courtesy of a head plate and armored tail. The Hairy Armadillo (Chaetophractus vellerosus) contrastingly, has a soft outer shell.
The carapace offers several advantages. Most obviously, perhaps, is protection. The La Plata Armadillo is nearly impenetrable when he rolls into a ball. The only predator that could possibly open this shell needs to have opposable thumbs. However, even with this advantage, most predators would find the benefit (food) is not worth the cost (time) it takes to open. It also offers fortification measures by pinching the opposition in its hinges.
Another advantage of the carapace for this dweller of arid environments is thermal regulation. While all armadillos live in regions with temperatures between 92-97°F, the La Plata Armadillo can survive even hotter climates. One might think the shell would keep heat trapped inside the body, but the dermal hinges serve as climate control, allowing for air flow between the hinges.
Lastly, all armadillos have this really cool ability to travel across water. How?! They can hold their breath for really long periods of time. This allows them to walk on the bottom of riverbeds and waterways. What if they don’t want to walk? Like other mammals, they can suck in air and float across the water! Nothing can stop these guys from getting to the other side!
So I ask … what does the armadillo inspire in you?
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!
It’s been three weeks since I moved back to my familiar habitat in Ghent, Belgium, to finish my PhD remotely. From all places, my primary advisor’s lab relocated to The University of Ghent earlier this year.
I had spent the first 22 years of my life in the same city, in the same house, when I decided to pursue a PhD in Biomimicry. Since UAkron is the only university that offers a PhD degree in Biomimicry my decision to relocate there was easy. Two months later I jumped into a new chapter of my life, which has been an eye-opening adventure. Getting out of your comfort zone takes courage. Almost everything around you is new and different. In the 3.5 years I lived in Akron, I was exposed to so many new people, places, ideas, traditions, landscapes, recipes… Every day you can learn something new. Feeling like a total stranger at the start, it took curiosity and adaptation to make myself part of a new habitat. Continue reading
Lately, the Biomimicry PhD Fellowship Program has been attracting local and national media attention.
First, Rebecca Bagley, President and CEO of NorTech, blogged on Forbes.com about Five Tech Trends That Can Drive Company Success. Biomimicry topped the list of trends. The post mentioned the University of Akron’s $4.25 million commitment to research and innovation, including the appointment of 10 new biomimicry faculty over a period of six years. The first three hires, for fall 2014, will be in the areas of biodesign, comparative biomechanics, and soft materials. Bagley’s first post received so much positive feedback, that she did a follow-up a few weeks later titled Biomimicry: How Nature Can Streamline Your Business For Innovation. The second piece included rave reviews of the Biomimicry Fellowship Program from Pete Buca, head of Innovation & Technology at Parker Hannifin. Parker Hannifin was one of the first companies to sign on to sponsor a Corporate Biomimicry Fellow (Daphne).
Great Lakes Biomimicry Collaborative (GLBio) hosted an event for business leaders, scientists, and designers this Thursday. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss the collaborative’s recent accomplishments and future goals, and about sixty people from all different walks of life showed up for updates! GLBio representatives discussed the formal partnership they have established with Biomimicry 3.8 and how they plan to advance biomimicry as a discipline in northeast Ohio. Peter Niewiarowski, our PhD director, updated the audience on the PhD’s progression. Bill, Emily, and I each gave a 5-minute brief on the intellectual progress we’ve made in the past six months. Afterwards, everyone seemed really anxious to talk to us and learn more! The whole day gave us great vibes about what is happening in the region, and even more motivation to help disseminate this discipline to educators and a range of industries.
Biomimicry is all about the power of Nature to inspire novel ideas, so we couldn’t go the whole event without a little inspiration. During an intermission, an employee of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo walked around the audience with a live owl and snake! I was particularly excited about the owl given what I’ve learned about bird feathers in my advisor Matthew Shawkey’s lab at UAkron. The research focus in the lab are the diverse and often very vivid colors of bird feathers produced through structural coloration. The Cleveland Zoo employee talked about the owl’s unique ability for noiseless flight, and how this has inspired quieter, more efficient airplane wings. One of the comments made at the end of the GLBio resonated with me: “Innovation comes when you engage with the energy you feel when you look an owl in the eyes. We are all a part of the natural world.”
It was a wonderful experience networking with people of the same mindset. But forming these connections with forward-thinking people is only the beginning. As Henry Ford once said; “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
Today we attended the award ceremony for the Inamori Ethics Prize at Case Western Reserve University. We were accompanied by Tom Tyrell, the CEO of the Great Lakes Biomimicry Collaborative (GLBio). GLBio is an organization that brings together individuals and organizations in Northeast Ohio committed to building a regional (and one day global) biomimicry network. Leaders at GLBio first envisioned a Biomimicry PhD opportunity and partnered with UAkron and the Cleveland Institute of Art to make it a reality.
David Suzuki was this year’s Inamori Ethic prize recipient, and he gave a phenomenal acceptance speech encouraging a reevaluation of economic values. He asked the audience, how can we achieve ecological sustainability when we’ve created an economy in which we are ever-striving for the unattainable “goal”: growth?
Suzuki’s talk led to some very thought-provoking class discussions about sustainability. What is it? What scale is appropriate for measuring sustainability? Can we achieve economic sustainability if growth is the goal? If not, how could we reshape the economic system?