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Launch of ASU center prompts discussion of nature as source for sustainable ideas

Biomimicry displays on table
March 06, 2015

“How will seeing nature as a model, measure and mentor change us?”

Janine Benyus posed this question to a large crowd gathered inside Old Main on the Tempe campus for the March 3 launch of The Biomimcy Center – a joint effort between Arizona State University and the consulting and training firm Biomimicry 3.8.

Benyus, a biomimicry pioneer, co-founded Biomimicry 3.8 with Dayna Baumeister, co-director of the new center and a professor of practice at ASU’s School of Life Sciences.

“The launch of the Biomimicry Center at ASU is a huge milestone for us,” said Benyus. “It’s always better to dream in partnership, and I really believe that ASU is a partner that we’ve been waiting for to do this work well.”

Biomimicry uses biologically-inspired design to address complex sustainability challenges, such as creating energy-efficient and environmentally-responsive materials for a variety of applications, or developing a renewable energy system inspired by photosynthesis.

The new ASU center will be the hub of research and education collaborations between university units and industry and government partners.

“We love big ideas and big challenges, so this is a perfect partnership for us,” said Prasad Boradkar, co-director of the Biomimicry Center and professor of industrial design at The Design School at ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

The launch event kicked off with a research symposium featuring researchers from disciplines such as life sciences, architecture and urban design, psychology, earth and space exploration, engineering, chemistry, sustainability and English.

“In the Western world, we’ve come to separate principles of nature, biology and life, from those of design, innovation and technology,” said Baumeister during the opening session of the center launch symposium. “If both overlapped, we could look at nature as a model and a source for ideas that are successful.”

Symposium sessions included "Change the Story, Change the Outcome;" “Nudge Toward a New Paradigm;” “Swarmimicry: Engineering Certain Outcomes in an Uncertain World;” “Smart Matter;” and “Connections through Indigenous Stories.”

The symposium preceded a lecture by Benyus and a Q&A session between Benyus and ASU Provost Robert E. Page Jr. The festivities ended with performances incorporating biomimicry principles.

The Amyloid Project, choreographed by assistant professors Jessica Rajko from ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and Sara Vaiana from ASU’s Department of Physics, sought to explore and expose the chaotic molecular choreography of intrinsically disordered proteins.

In another performance, “Forest,” Garth Paine, associate professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and School of Music, condensed the native sounds of the American Southwest into a five-minute composition. The piece blended notes from the flute with the recordings of birds and frogs. The electronically reprocessed sounds are an example of what Paine calls “an ongoing inquiry into the ways in which we converse with nature on a daily basis.”

Discussions during the day centered on a connecting philosophy: How can we find our way “home” to nature-inspired design, products and services, and learn from our “elders” – living organisms that have evolved and inhabited the planet much longer than humans?

“We live on a competent planet with competent elders,” said Benyus. “Compared to 3.8 billion years of evolution of living matter on this planet, human beings are a young species with a huge impact. Changing who and what we emulate is the fastest way you change the nature of this impact.”

The Biomimicry Center at ASU is supported by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, School of Sustainability, W. P. Carey School of Business, School of Life Sciences and Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, as well as the Office of Knowledge and Enterprise Development and the Provost’s Office.