Biomimicry: Nature-Inspired Engineering

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Janine Benyus has a message for engineers: Look to nature for inspiration.

Biomimicry is the practice of learning from and replicating nature's forms, processes, and ecosystems to help solve some of the world’s most complex design challenges. By looking to the natural world and its extensive database of evolutionary solutions, we can improve the way we engineer everything from skyscrapers to solar panels.

In this episode of Create the Future, Janine explains how she has helped some of the most successful companies draw inspiration from 3.8 billion years of evolution (or “R&D”). We explore the unexpected and everyday applications of biomimicry, discuss the important role of biomimicry in slowing climate change, and Janine encourages engineers to discover how their design challenges may have already been solved by nature.

New episodes of ‘Create the Future: An Engineering Podcast’ every other Tuesday.

About the guest

Janine Benyus is a biologist, author, and innovation consultant who popularised the term ‘biomimicry’ with her book ‘Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature’. She studied at Rutgers University, graduating with a degree in English literature and natural resources management.

In 1998 Janine co-founded the world’s first bio-inspired consultancy, Biomimicry 3.8, bringing nature’s sustainable designs to over 250 clients including Boeing, Nike, NASA, and Coca-Cola. In 2006, she co-founded the Biomimicry Institute, a non-profit dedicated to making biology a natural part of the design and engineering process. The Institute runs, the world’s most comprehensive free online biomimicry inspiration database.

Janine has received several awards, including TIME magazine’s ‘Hero of the Environment Award’ in 2008, the United Nations Environment Programme’s Champion of the Earth Award in 2009, and the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Mind Award in 2012.

Episode Highlights

  • “We are biologists at the design table. So what biomimicry is, it's inventions inspired by nature. And yet many inventors, engineers, chemists, material scientists, architects, designers, do not have a not biology background. We ask, 'what in the natural world has already solved your problem?'”
  • “There are some paradigm shifting technologies that are coming from biomimicry right now.”
  • “It's a patent database, 3.8 billion years of R&D. And more and more people are realising that. The concept of function is the Rosetta Stone between engineering and biology.”
  • “It's an amazing thing for biologists to be able to take what they know about the adaptations in the natural world and offer it to companies and engineers.”
  • “The engineers at a company are understandably sceptical at first. Once they sit down and solve a problem through the biomimicry process, they become the biggest advocates. It's like, all of a sudden finding a library you never knew was there. Once they try it, you just can't stop them.”
  • “Biomimicry is going to play a big role in our efforts to reverse climate change.”
  • “Evolution is an optimisation programme. It's a very quick way for us as humans to move to a solution that has been optimised. Then human creativity gets going."
  • “I named it biomimicry for the Greek ‘bios’ and ‘mimesis’ and put it together in ‘biomimicry’.”

Photo by Jan Kopřiva from Pexels

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