Youth Design Challenge 2021

Challenge Entry

Mid August 2020
  Registration Opens 
March 1, 2021
  Registration Deadline 
April 1, 2021
  Submissions Deadline 
May 2021

Registration for the 2020-2021 school year is now closed. Stay tuned for our winner announcement in May of 2021 and sign up for our mailing list to get the latest updates and nature-inspired resources sent directly to your inbox.

Nature + Design = Transformative STEM Learning

The Youth Design Challenge (YDC) is a free, hands-on, project-based learning experience that provides classroom and informal educators with a new framework to introduce biomimicry and an interdisciplinary approach to science and environmental literacy. Working in teams with an adult coach, students explore the wonders of the natural world and apply what they learn to create innovations that support a healthier planet. 


Key details are outlined below. For additional information, please refer to the Program Handbook.

The Youth Design Challenge follows an academic calendar. You can teach the biomimicry project at any time during the year, however entries to the competition are reviewed once annually in late spring.

Timeline for 2020-21

  • Registration Opens: Mid August 2020
  • Introductory Webinar: September 24 *Watch Recording*
  • Webinar "Digging into the Biomimicry Design Cycle": November 10 *Watch Recording*
  • Free Online Training "Coaching the YDC - Collaborative Workshop": February 24
  • Registration Deadline: March 1, 2021
  • Submission Deadline: April 1, 2021 (5pm, Pacific Time)
  • Awards: May 2021


The Youth Design Challenge is a team competition for students in middle school (grades 6-8) and high school (grades 9-12). A team consists of between two-eight students and one to two adult coaches affiliated with a school, educational organization, or homeschool. Please refer to the Official Rules for complete eligibility details.

What will your team do?

Your team will take on the role of innovators and work together to apply biomimicry (nature-inspired innovation) to address a social and/or environmental issue related to climate change adaptation or mitigation. Suggestion: work on an issue that affects your local community! As a coach, you will guide your students as they study how organisms in nature have adapted to similar problems and challenges and apply what they learn to innovative solutions. Final projects can then be entered into the nationwide competition for prizes awarded by the Biomimicry Institute.

How does the Challenge meet instructional goals?

The Youth Design Challenge is aligned to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for both middle school and high school. Full alignments can be downloaded below.

Curriculum and Training

Prior experience with biomimicry is not required to participate in the Challenge. A variety of resources and online training opportunities are provided to help you support your students, including standards-aligned unit planning resources and a twenty-two lesson Instructional Storyline that will guide you and your team step-by-step through the biomimicry design process. Once you have registered for the Challenge, you can explore these materials in the Resources section of this website.

Getting Started

Register as a Coach. Coaches serve as the point of contact between their team(s) and the Biomimicry Institute and are responsible for submitting team entries. Students cannot join the Challenge independently.

  • Register: Begin by clicking the SIGN UP button in the top right of this page and completing your Coach profile.*
  • Review Resources: Once registered, you will have access to the Educator Resources section of the website, containing program materials, curriculum, and training opportunities. Start by reviewing the Program Handbook for information and suggestions for coaching your team. Then browse the curriculum and resources.
  • Dive In: Gather your team members and get them started with learning and designing!
  • Submit: When your students have completed their designs, use the Challenge website to submit the competition entry. The Challenge will start accepting submissions in December.

*If you are a returning YDC coach or have interacted with the Biomimicry Institute’s design challenge platform in another role, you can use your existing account and log-in credentials. Simply log-in and create your profile for the 2021 Challenge by clicking on your username and selecting "2021 Coach Profile" in the dropdown.

Judging & Awards

The YDC Awards are designed to recognize student achievement in several aspects of the design project, correlated to the Challenge Rubric. The following awards will be given in both the middle school and high school categories to the teams that best exemplify these qualities.

  • Problem Definition Award:
    For systems thinking, thoroughness, and creativity in researching, identifying, and defining a problem to solve.
  • Naturalist Award:
    For comprehensive research into biological models, thorough explanations of their natural history and strategies, and selection of appropriate models to inform the design.
  • Design Cycle Award:
    For perseverance in the iterative design cycle including exploration of multiple design ideas, using creative techniques to test potential solutions, and/or getting feedback from diverse experts and interested community members to inform design revisions.
  • Changemaker Award:
    For an innovative design proposal that could potentially move forward in future research and development and/or would have a significant impact if implemented.
  • Storyteller Award:
    For an engaging presentation of the required application materials that creatively and accurately captures the team’s innovation process and learning journey.

Winning teams will receive an award certificate and have their work publicly recognized online and/or in the media. In addition, a $500 cash gift will be made to an environmental charity in honor of the team. Teams may select from a list of approved US-based charities provided by the Institute, or designate another qualifying organization of their choice to receive the funds.

Submission Requirements

Entries are submitted online and include the following elements:

  • Written project overview 
  • Project image
  • Two-minute video pitch
  • Project portfolio
  • Team photo

For complete details about requirements, please visit our Submission Guidelines page

Judging Process

Coaches are asked to participate in the judging process during a preliminary review period in which they will rate a selection of student entries against the rubric. Award winners are then selected by a panel of expert judges from among the top-scoring entries.

Design Brief: Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation

Your Challenge

Explore the wonders of the natural world and create a nature-inspired innovation* that addresses climate change by:

  • Helping communities adapt to climate change impacts -AND/OR-
  • Reversing or slowing the advance of climate change itself.

* An innovation may include the design of a physical technology, a process, or a system. Basically, any new approach for how people can do things.

The Problem

Earth has always been a changing place, but the climate and ecological changes humans have set in motion are like nothing our planet has experienced before. Hungry for energy, food, materials, space, and other resources, our impact on the environment is destabilizing the climate, resulting in mounting negative consequences to the planet and billions of people. To avoid the worst consequences of climate change, people must find ways to reduce both new emissions and current levels of greenhouse gases and adapt to climate change impacts. The good news is that our planet’s biodiversity offers an array of possible solutions that are just waiting to be discovered!

A Pathway for Solutions

Nature is one of the best models we have for a sustainable, regenerative way of life. In order for people to thrive on a healthy planet, our human-built systems must work together with the systems of the natural world we all are part of. Biomimicry (nature-inspired design) provides a pathway to the solutions we need to accomplish this. Organisms and ecosystems offer incredible inspiration, and time-tested strategies that can be emulated and applied to climate change issues in areas as diverse as energy, water, transportation, buildings and infrastructure, food systems, health, behavior change, and more. Visit our Climate Change collection on AskNature for some examples.

What are we looking for?

Award-winning teams will identify a specific problem to focus on, provide evidence that solving it will help address climate change, and propose a well-researched biomimicry solution to the problem. We are especially interested in projects that offer solutions to issues affecting the team’s community or region. For details about judging criteria, please review the Challenge Rubric.

Download Design Brief Handout (PDF)

Official Rules

Updated: August 19, 2020

The Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge (the “Challenge”) is a project-based learning experience hosted by the Biomimicry Institute (the “Institute”). The program provides educators with a Challenge framework, curriculum, and resources for offering a biomimicry design experience to student teams in a school-based or extracurricular setting. Team design projects may then optionally be submitted to the national competition.

1. Who Can Participate 

1.1) The Challenge is open to middle and high school students (US equivalent grades 6th-12th)

1.2) Students must participate as part of a TEAM. Individual entries are not accepted. A TEAM consists of 2 - 8 student team members with 1 or 2 adult COACHES who will communicate with the Institute on behalf of the TEAM. No student may be on more than one Team, however Coaches may advise multiple Teams.

1.3) TEAMS and COACHES must be affiliated with a public school, private school, registered homeschool, or a legally recognized educational organization (such as a museum, nature center, after school program, youth agency, etc.). The Institute has sole authority to determine whether an organization constitutes a legally recognized organization. If you are not sure if your organization will qualify, please contact

1.4) Coaches may be educators, volunteers, or parents/guardians working with the TEAM’s affiliated organization. Coaches must be age 21 or older.

1.5) TEAMS may be composed of students from assorted grades, however if any team member is in grade 9th-12th (high school) that team must compete in the high school category.

2. Program Consent and Release

2.1) Homeschool Coaches not affiliated with a legally-recognized organization must collect a signed consent and release agreement (“Consent and Release”) from the parent/guardian of all student team members, prior to engaging in Program activities. The Consent and Release shall be filed with the Biomimicry Institute according to the instructions in the Program Handbook.

2.2) Coaches are not deemed agents of the Institute and carry no authority, rights, or representation on behalf of the Institute. The Institute provides the Challenge framework as a teaching guide for the Coach, which includes Program materials, management of the judging process, and the issuance of the team awards.

2.3) Coaches and participants (and minor participants’ parent/guardian) agree to hold harmless the Institute and its officers, directors, agents and employees from and against any and all losses, damages, obligations, liabilities, claims, expenses, fees (including attorneys’ fees), costs and judgments arising out of, based upon or resulting from participation in the Youth Design Challenge.

3. How to Register

3.1) Coaches must register via the Challenge website, and identify themselves and their affiliated organization or registered homeschool. Once registered, Coaches will receive access to resources and supports with which to guide their Teams in the Challenge experience and preparing a competition entry. Student Team members do not directly register or submit entries to the Challenge and the Institute will not correspond with student team members directly.

3.2) If a team has two Coaches, both may register but one of the Coaches must be designated “Lead Coach” and assume primary responsibility for communicating with the Institute and submitting and approving the Team’s entry on the Challenge website. If a team has only one Coach, they are by default the “Lead Coach.”

4.Entering the Challenge

4.1) Entries must be submitted in English and received via the Challenge website by the posted deadline. Late and incomplete entries will not be considered. Follow the guidelines provided on the Challenge website and in the Program Handbook for instructions on how and what to submit.

4.2) Only one entry is permitted per Team. Coaches working with multiple Teams may submit up to three (3) entries. If more than three entries are received from a Coach, only the first 3 eligible entries will be considered.

4.3) Teams from registered homeschools must have completed Consent and Release paperwork on file in order to submit an entry and be considered for awards. (See item 6 above for details)

4.4) All entries must be the students’ own original work. If any copyrighted materials are used in the submission they must be properly credited and follow U.S. Fair Use guidelines.

4.5) The Institute reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to disqualify or refuse to display any entry it deems to be in violation of copyright, offensive, inappropriate, or not in keeping with the Institute’s image.

4.6) Submission materials include photographs and video that may picture students. Coaches must acquire and handle such images in a manner that complies with their organization's image policy and provide parents/guardians with the opportunity to opt out of including their student in submission materials. Coaches are liable for ensuring that all images they submit to the Institute via the Challenge do not picture any students who have opted out.

4.7) By submitting an entry, each Team (collectively the Coach(es), student team members, and minor team members’ parents or guardians) grants to Institute the right to display the submitted entry materials, photographs, and team biographical information (including names, school names, grades, city and state, and country) on the Challenge website. The Institute may also use such photographs and information, with appropriate attribution, for educational or research purposes, advertising and promotion, or any other legal purposes, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world in perpetuity without further notice, permission, or compensation, except where prohibited by law.

5. Judging & Awards

5.1) Entries to the Challenge are judged once annually and prizes are awarded in two grade level categories: middle school (US grade 6th-8th) and high school (US grade 9th-12th). In each category multiple awards will be given. Refer to the Program Handbook and YDC website for details on the awards and judging process.

5.2) Coaches submitting entries to the Challenge will be asked to review a selection of entries during a preliminary round of judging and score them based on a numerical point system correlated to the Youth Design Challenge Rubric. Coaches may not judge their own Team(s) or any other Team that would represent a conflict of interest.

5.3) Up to 10 entries in each category (based on numerical score) will advance from the preliminary round to a second round of judging. A panel of judges composed of Biomimicry Institute staff and selected education and biomimicry subject matter experts will select award winners. Decisions are final. Winners will be notified via email.

5.4) Projects selected for awards will be publicly recognized in a gallery on the Youth Design Challenge website, on the Biomimicry Institute website, and in media and outreach from the Biomimicry Institute. Each winning team will receive an award certificate. In addition, a $500 cash gift will be made to an environmental charity in honor of the team. Teams may select from a list of approved US-based charities provided by the Institute, or designate another qualifying organization of their choice to receive the funds.

5.5) Award recipients are required to sign and return a prize/award acceptance form within thirty (30) days of receipt of the prize/award acceptance form or the prize may be forfeited and, at the Institute’s sole discretion, awarded to another winner.

6. General Award Conditions

6.1) By accepting the award, recipients grant to the Institute the right to use his or her name, photograph, likeness, and biographical information (including grade, school name, hometown, and state), for purposes of advertising and promotion, or any other legal purposes, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world in perpetuity without further notice, permission, or compensation, except where prohibited by law.

6.2) One or more winners may be asked to attend and participate in media and/or public relations events (the “Media Events”) designated by Institute and/or requested by various media outlets. Upon Institute’s request, and subject to winner’s availability, each winner agrees to participate in such Media Events without any further compensation. However, the Institute will cover travel expenses related to media events. Institute shall have the right, in its sole discretion, to choose the winners it wishes to participate in such Media Events. By accepting the prize, all winners, whether or not chosen to participate in such Media Events, agree to release Institute and its employees, directors, and officers, and hold each of them harmless from any claims relating to the respective winner’s selection, non-selection, participation, or non-participation in any Media Events.

6.3) The Coach may be asked to submit testimonials, photos, and other materials for use in promoting the Challenge, and if the Coach submits such materials, he or she agrees that the license above with respect to the entry shall cover such submission.

7. Privacy Policy

We believe that privacy is important. Any information shared with the Institute during the Challenge is subject to the Biomimicry Institute Privacy Policy and Terms of Use which can be viewed here.


How do I know if my organization is eligible to host a team?

The competition is open to teams affiliated with a public school, private school, registered homeschool, or a legally recognized educational organization (such as a museum, nature center, after school program, youth agency, etc.) If you are unsure that your organization qualifies, please contact us at

Can my homeschool participate?

Yes. Please indicate that you represent a homeschool when registering.

Can my international school participate? 

Yes, we can now accept entries from schools outside the USA!

Can students join without a coach?

Sorry, students cannot register for the YDC independently. Only an adult educator ("coach") can may register on the YDC to represent a student team. We encourage students who are interested in the Challenge to contact their teacher or a parent and ask them to help organize a YDC team.

How many teams can I coach?

You can coach as many as you want. To streamline the judging process, we ask that each coach submit only their 3 strongest team projects to the national competition. You can select the teams you submit yourself or organize a local competition and have students or special guests vote on which projects should enter.

How long does the challenge take?

To prepare a competitive entry, we recommend devoting 25-30 class hours to complete the project. This includes time for background instruction on the topics of biomimicry and climate change as well as time to facilitate the design process. Depending on how these activities are scheduled, and whether connections to other course content or enrichment activities (such as a nature field trip) are added, the project could take, in total, between a few weeks to a full semester or longer. If you do not intend to submit student projects to the competition, you could easily abbreviate the project.

Why can't I access the curriculum and resources?

Once you have created an account and coach profile, you will be able to access the content within the Resources section by logging in using your credentials. If you are a returning coach you will need to update your coach profile for the current year. You can do this from the user menu once you are logged in.

How can I reach a staff member?

If you have a question that was not answered here, you can reach a staff member for support by emailing

"One of the biggest things that needs to change is the educational system. [We] are still teaching a system to students that destroys the biosphere."

- Ray C. Anderson, Founder of Interface