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Biomimicry is an emerging discipline that seeks to emulate nature’s strategies and principles to create sustainable solutions to human challenges.
By asking the question: “How would nature do this?”, biomimics around the world are creating products, processes, companies and policies that are well adapted to life on earth over the long haul. Examples include turbine blades designed like whale fins to reduce drag and stronger fiber optics produced like sea sponges. (See seven more examples explained on Mother Nature Network.)
Humans have turned to nature for inspiration and solutions for a long time. But a formal methodology—drawing on peer-reviewed biological research–has only evolved over the last several decades.
Following the publication of her seminal 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Janine Benyus and Dr. Dayna Baumeister created the Biomimicry Guild, which formalized the practice of biomimicry as a methodical tool for innovating sustainability solutions.
As demand grew for biomimicry education and consulting, Benyus and Baumeister founded the non-profit Biomimicry Institute and the innovation firm Biomimicry 3.8, which has worked with notable clients like Interface, HOK, Nike and Coca-Cola.
ASU’s involvement with biomimicry started taking shape in fall 2008 when InnovationSpace Co-Director Adelheid Fischer began incorporating principles and methodologies of biomimicry into the program’s curriculum.
InnovationSpace is an entrepreneurial joint venture among the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, W. P. Carey School of Business and School of Sustainability at ASU. The goal of InnovationSpace’s transdisciplinary education and research lab is to teach students how to develop product-service systems that create market value while serving real societal needs and minimizing impacts on the environment.
InnovationSpace has collaborated on product concepts with corporations including Herman Miller, Intel, P&G and Dow Corning, and with other ASU research centers like the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing, the Center for Nanotechnology in Society and the Flexible Display Center.
Fischer, along with InnovationSpace Director Prasad Boradkar and PhD students from ASU’s School of Life Sciences worked closely with the biomimicry institute in developing educational materials to teach biomimicry to undergraduate students in design, business and engineering. In 2010, ASU became the first U.S. affiliate institution of The Biomimicry Institute, an agreement that laid the groundwork for joint development of biomimicry-based courses and other educational opportunities. At this time, Fischer was named Biomimicry Fellow by the institute.
In 2013, a team including Boradkar and Baumeister proposed the creation of the Biomimicry Center at ASU, which would naturally align with the eight design aspirations of the New American University as outlined by university president Dr. Michael Crow. ASU Provost Dr. Robert Page provided support for this initiative and led a university wide effort to raise funds for the new center.
The proposal was approved in spring 2014 with funding from several units across campus including the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, School of Sustainability, W.P. Carey School of Business, and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, as well as the Provost’s Office and the Office of Knowledge and Enterprise Development.