The Whale and the Wind Turbine: Biomimicry in Design

September 10, 2006
October 25, 2006
Andersen Auditorium at Haas Business School

Biomimicry is a design discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies, e.g., a solar cell inspired by a leaf. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies---new ways of living---that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul.

Janine Benyus, the author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, will describe what's new in the field, describe deep patterns of biological design, and engage us in a discussion of what's possible when we invite nature to the design table.

Biomimics at UC Berkeley and around the world are learning to: Grow food like a prairie, move through fluids like a whale, make ceramics like a mollusk, harness energy like a leaf, create color like a peacock, find cures like a chimp, compute like a cell, and run a business like a redwood forest.

- UCSB scientists are mimicking how marine sponges make their skeletons so that we might be able to self-assemble computer chips at low temperatures and without toxins.

- PaxIT is cutting computer fan noise in half by mimicking the streamlining shapes found not just in seashells, but ubiquitously in the natural world.

- Lucent scientists are studying the spherical calcite lenses of the deep-sea brittlestar as a model for light transmission systems in optical computers.

- Qualcomm is building low-energy PDA displays that can be read in sunlight. They use tunable layers to generate brilliant colors, an idea they got from the tropical morpho butterfly.

- Cambridge Biostability has mimicked the resurrection fern to store vaccines without refrigeration, potentially saving the lives of 10 million children annually.

These bio-inspired designs are elegant, functional, and, not surprisingly, sustainable as well. After all, the models are organisms that manufacture without "heat, beat, and treat" methods, and ecosystems that run on sunlight and feedback, creating opportunities rather than waste.

Besides helping our species earn a longer stay on the planet, biomimicry has the potential to change the way we view and value non-human nature. It encourages us to view nature not as a source of goods, but as a mentor, a source of wisdom.

For more information, contact Dana Smirin.