There’s been much discussion about Biomimicry in my life recently, which brings up the question – what exactly is Biomimicry?
According to A Biomimicry Primer by Janine Benyus, a biologist, innovation consultant, author of several books, including the book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, and co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute, the formal definition of Biomimicry is:
learning from and then emulating natural forms, processes and ecosystems to create more sustainable designs
The core idea of Biomimicry recognizes that nature has already solved many of our present day problems: energy, food production, climate control, benign chemistry, transportation, collaboration, and more…
Geese fly in a V formation to reduce wind resistance and conserve energy.
Riders at the Tour de France use the same formation for these reasons, too.
Simply, biomimicry means to imitate life (bios means life, mimesis mean to imitate). A balance between nature and technology, biomimicry is based on respect for, rather than domination of, the natural world. Biomimicry aims to discover sustainable solutions to everyday problems by borrowing from life’s blueprints, chemical recipes and ecosystem strategies. Biomimics seek to learn from nature; which requires design practitioners to use a new method of inquiry in order to bring us directly into relation with the natural world and life’s genius for the continuation of not just one life, but all life.
Learning from life’s genius involves three big questions:
- What would nature do here? (nature as model)
- What wouldn’t nature do here? (nature as measure)
- Why or why not? (nature as mentor)
The Kingfisher has a long, solid bill for diving for prey and digging.
The Shinkansen borrowed the Kingfisher bill design to reduce noise (sonic booms!) when emerging from tunnels.
Biomimics turn to nature for inspiration – their valuable teachers are the bacteria, fungi, plants and animals of this planet – and they seek their advice at all stages of design to create products, processes and policies that are fully life-inspired, functional, sustainable and beautiful. Instead of harvesting (bioutilization) or domesticating (bioassisted), biomimics consult organisms and see nature as a source of ideas instead of a source of goods.
Biomimicry is difficult to categorize: it is a design discipline, a branch of science, a method of problem solving, a sustainability ethos, a movement, a stance toward nature, and a new way of viewing and valuing biodiversity.
Termites keep their mounds at a very stable temperature by opening and closing vents throughout the mound over the course of the day.
The Eastgate Centre has a cooling system that operates like a termite mound.
So, then, how do we make the act of asking nature for advice a normal part of everyday inventing? How do we bring nature’s wisdom to all parts of our economy?
If you’re looking for more information about this fascinating topic, here are several links to get you started:
Swedish Center for Biomimetic Fiber Engineering – Royal Institute of Technology
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard