Introducing biomimicry to students is a joy, because you get to see students learn about this amazing idea for the first time. Here are some general tips and resources for making a great introduction.
- You can also refer to the YDC Storyline, “Creating Local Biomimicry Solutions to Global Problems,” for a sequence of lessons introducing biomimicry and the Youth Design Challenge. (Registration and log-in required to access)
Where to Begin
A good introduction to the idea of biomimicry starts with defining the word in a few simple sentences, such as:
“Biomimicry comes from joining two words, bios which means ‘life’, and mimicry, which means ‘learning from’ or ‘emulating’. Biomimicry is an approach to design and technology in which inventors look to nature, at the living world around us, to develop innovative ideas.”
Follow this up with examples of biomimicry. This is essential. To do this, you have several options: you can create a presentation, show your students some videos, or point your students to websites of biomimicry examples.
Tips for selecting biomimicry examples:
- Pick examples to which students can relate. What’s familiar to them? What do they care about?
- Include diverse examples that demonstrate how biomimicry is used in a wide range of application. Biomimicry has been applied in challenges from automotive engineering to agriculture, health, architecture, fashion design, cosmetics, sports, and much more.
- Include examples that demonstrate the breadth of biological models that are used in biomimicry. These include organisms (e.g. animals, plants, fungi, and microbes), sub-organismal models (e.g. organs, tissues, and cells), and supra-organismal models (e.g. biological communities and entire ecosystems).
- Include examples that demonstrate different conceptual “levels” or “scales” at which biomimicry can be applied. When we look broadly at the various examples of biomimicry, they tend to fall into one or more of three scales of application: forms (shapes and structures), processes (behaviors or how something is done), and systems (relationships and connections). For more on the concept of "scales" of biomimicry, see page 14 of the resource Sharing Biomimicry with Young People, described below.)
Examples of Biomimicry
- Biomimicry Institute website: Biomimicry Examples
- AskNature: Inspired Ideas - This section of the AskNature site catalogs the stories behind realized and conceptual products, services, and systems that have their roots in biology.
- AskNature: Green Chemistry Innovations Collection - This collection of inspired ideas focuses on innovations in chemistry.
- Bloomberg: “14 Smart Inventions Inspired by Nature: Biomimicry” (2015)
- Mother Nature Network: “8 amazing examples of biomimicry” (2016)
Resources for Teachers
- Biomimicry Institute: Sharing Biomimicry with Young People - This document provides an orientation to biomimicry for K-12 educators, describing the what and why of biomimicry with teaching suggestions for several core concepts. It is available to download from AskNature with a free account.
- AskNature Resources - A diverse library of resources for teaching and learning about biomimicry. The collection can be filtered by resource type and audience. (Note: A free account is required to download some materials.)
Resources to Share with Students
- Vox and 99% Invisible: "The world is poorly designed. But copying nature helps." (2017) - This 6 minute video introduces biomimicry, the application of biomimicry at different scales, and connections to the circular economy.
- Fast Company & Earth Sky: What is Biomimicry? (2011) - In this short and sweet 2 minute video, author and biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus provides a succinct description of what biomimicry is.
- TED Talks: Michael Pawlyn - Using nature's genius in architecture (2010) - Michael Pawlyn describes three habits of nature that could transform architecture and society: radical resource efficiency, closed loops, and drawing energy from the sun.
- TED Talks: Janine Benyus - Biomimicry's surprising lessons from nature's engineers (2005) - The founder of the Biomimicry Institute discusses developments in nature inspired innovation.
- AskNature - AskNature is the Biomimicry Institute's online library of information about biomimicry, including biological strategies, inspired ideas, and resources for learning about the discipline.
- A Biomimicry Primer, by Janine Benyus - An essay describing biomimicry and the discipline's place in sustainable design.