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Biomimicry Center Emulates Nature to Solve Design Challenges

Biomimicry Center Emulates Nature to Solve Design Challenges

Arizona State University has become one of a handful of research institutions to open a center devoted entirely to biomimicry, which some researchers believe is the way forward for sustainable design across numerous research disciplines.

The university last week unveiled The Biomimicry Center, a collaboration between ASU and Biomimicry 3.8, a consulting and training firm co-founded by Janine Benyus and Dayna Baumeister, leaders in the emerging field that looks to nature as inspiration for design in science, technology, art, and numerous other fields. In fact, it was Benyus' book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature in 1997 that first brought biomimicry to prominence.

The center is aimed at facilitating education and research to create sustainable solutions by emulating biological forms and strategies, according to ASU. This work will span a number of professional and research disciplines, including biology, design, engineering, business, communications, material science, and chemistry, among others.

The ASU center will focus particularly on sustainability and trying to find solutions to solve some of the world's greatest challenges with a trans disciplinary approach using nature as an inspiration for design, Baumeister -- a biologist and ecologist who serves as the center's co-director with Professor Prasad Boradkar of The Design School in ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts -- told Design News.

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Biomimicry is so significant because it has the potential to correct a lot of the mistakes humans have made in science and design and potentially reverse the effect they've had on the earth's ecosystem and environment, creating ways to do things that support and sustain life rather than harm or destroy it, Baumeister said.

"Biomimicry has the potential to transform creativity and innovation," she told us. "[Compared to nature] we are relatively new to this planet, and we definitely have made a lot of mistakes along the way. When it comes to saving [ourselves] basically, it makes a lot of sense to ask the other species for advice."

The practice of biomimicry also could spur a fundamental change in the mindset of humans' relationship with nature and create and promote more eco-friendly and sustainable practices in general, according to Baumeister. "It has a framework and a mindset that we see ourselves not just separate from nature, but we are nature," she said. "So if we fundamentally rewrite that story and see nature as a mentor, then it changes everything. It changes the entire way we live on the planet."

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In addition to engaging in and promoting research, the Biomimicry Center also will offer the first-ever master of science, as well as the first-ever graduate certificate in biomimicry through online programs that are accredited versions of professional training programs developed by Biomimicry 3.8. ASU is currently accepting applications to these programs online and is planning an on-campus master's program.

ASU was a good fit for developing a biomimicry research center because the university's president, Michael Crow, is "a big fan" of biomimicry, Baumeister said. ASU also promotes an educational model focused on sustainability and cross-disciplinary methods, she said. The university held a symposium on the topic last week to celebrate the opening of the new facility.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and NYC. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

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