What is biomimicry?

Biomimicry is the design and production of material, structures and systems modelled on nature. It is not a new science, humans have been learning from nature for millennia. More recently, however, as human societies become ever more unsustainable, biomimicry has emerged as a valuable approach to finding solutions to some of humanities most challenging environmental issues.

Biomimicry is not simply copying nature (biomorphism) or connecting more deeply with nature (biophilia), although both are beneficial. It is observing how nature achieves certain tasks and processes, and then applying the same strategies to human-design challenges. The Wright brothers did this by observing Turkey Vultures and adapted their prototype airplanes. Businesses today are observing how some corals create a hard skeleton and using this insight to manufacture low carbon concrete. And others are observing how ants solve complex communication issues using simple rules and applying it to parcel delivery networks.

Subject Specific Recommendations

The Challenge offers a wide range of opportunities. It can be a great STEM project allowing students to explore their own curiosity in the topic. Or, it could be delivered in a more focused way within a choosen subject. We have listed below some suggestions for using the Challenge in delivering subject content, which can then be used on the 3-stage process outlined.

For the Biomimicry challenge students need to:

Observe how nature achieves certain tasks and processes
Then apply the same strategy to a human-design challenge

Aspects of ‘Working Scientifically’ that students could use

  • Observing changes over time

  • Looking for naturally-occurring patterns and relationships

  • Identifying and classifying things

  • Researching using secondary sources

  • Researching using secondary sources

  • Making observations and develping hypothesis

  • Comparative and fair testing

Biology is a great fit with biomimicry. The way different species adapt to and are affected by their environment provides inspiration for ways humans can also adapt. Some curriculum areas include:

The adaptations of leaves for photosynthesis. How can we get light deep inside a building and reduce energy costs?

How organisms affect, and are affected by, their environment, including the accumulation of toxic materials. How can we reduce the build up of toxins in human bodies?

The importance of plant reproduction through insect pollination in human food security. Lets invent a mechanical bee!

Organisms are interdependent and are adapted to their environment. How do we design buildings which fit to local conditions and change with the weather?

Changes in the environment may leave individuals within a species, and some entire species, less well adapted to compete successfully and reproduce, which in turn may lead to extinction. How does nature adapt to local conditions to changes such as flooding and drought?

Chemistry in nature is life friendly; products are assembled using only a few locally available elements and they do not breakdown into harmful by-products after use. Some curriculum areas include:

Exothermic and endothermic chemical reactions (qualitative). How do we keep vaccines cool in a hot country – how do elephants cope in the heat?

The production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate. How can buildings absorb the CO2 of users?

Carbon compounds, both as fuels and feedstock, and the competing demands for limited resources. How can we generate energy without oil?

The viability of recyling certain materials. How can we keep materials circulating in the economy?

Physics helps us think about how nature harnesses forces elegantly, and uses natural processes to heat and cool. Some curriculum areas include:

Auditory range of humans and animals. Can we make our buildings better for hearing nature? How can we better hear bird song inside?

Brownian motion in gases. This can look so beautiful under a microscope but is deadly when we think about air pollution. An understanding of its randomness and how nature copes with this – leaves and stomata for example might help us design this out of our lives.

Motion and forces. How does nature build tall structures resistant to earthquakes and high winds?

Stage One - introducing biomimicry & defining your challenge

The first stage in a design process is to define the problem or opportunity you want your design to address. It helps to set the goal you want your design to deliver and any factors you will need to consider. Critical in this stage, is to consider the context your design will operate in and the functions (purpose) it needs to deliver.

This PowerPoint presentation introduces biomimicry and key aspects of the challenge, includes slides notes.

Activities and Worksheets:

Useful resources:Useful videos:
  • Excellent introduction to biomimicry thinking by founder Janine Benyus (7 min) - link.
  • A longer (20 min) video from the Biomimicry Institute about biomimicry as a pathway for design - link.
  • The importance of biomimicry in education by Sam Stier (2 min) - link.
  • Many more videos from the Biomimicry Institute YouTube channel.

Stage Two - asking nature

In the second stage, we explore how nature could provide solutions to our design challenge. We can ask how nature provides similar functions which we can learn from.A lot of research has already been carried out which you can use, and it is also helpful to observe  nature first-hand to get more inspiration.

Activities and Worksheets:Useful websites:Useful videos:
  • Biomimicry function and strategy; includes nice examples of functions in nature and asking good questions - link.
  • Explanation of the function card activity - link.

Stage Three - your design solution

In the final stage, we combine insights from nature with our design challenge. How can biomimicry make our solution better and more sustainable? Think about how to present your design solution so that it demonstrates how biomimicry has helped you. Complete the biomimicry evaluation wheel to reflect on and improve your ideas.

Activities and Worksheets:

Further help and support

Please contact Richard Dawson with any questions or queries.

Email: biolearn@wild-awake.org