We can deeply (re)connect to nature through biomimicry. What is biomimicry?
Here is how I define it:
This is a loaded definition! Allow me to break it down into its components and briefly elaborate.
(i) To observe and learn from organisms and ecosystems, we need to spend time outdoors, read/watch/listen to media about biology, and have conversations with biologists.
(More on this in the next blog post!)
(ii) We can learn from and emulate forms, processes, and systems in nature. Forms are the physical structures of things – the shapes of parts and the how they are arranged within a volume; examples of form are the shape of a bird’s beak or the arrangement of bones in a bonobo foot. Processes are a series of actions that result in a particular outcome, such as the synthesis of abalone shell, the digestion of food by snakes, or the mating ritual of peafowl. Systems are complex networks of units that exchange information and/or materials among themselves and interact with their physical environment, like the human nervous system or the tropical rainforest ecosystem.
(iii) Organisms are beings that live and die, from bacteria to blue whales and everything in between. Individual organisms can inspire us through their forms and processes, and groups of different organisms (ecosystems) can teach us about organizing human-made systems. I include humans as a source of inspiration for biomimicry, focusing on human anatomy and physiology and the ways we lived well before the industrial revolution.
(iv) We want to emulate the mechanisms that organisms use to accomplish functions that we need our products to carry out. For example, to desalinate seawater, we could emulate how marine fish pump out excess salt through their kidneys and specialized cells in their gills. To have an effective and sustainable final product, we need to stay as true as possible to the biology we are emulating. Emulating is not the same as using a biological material. An example of bioutilization would be to crush up abalone shells and use the powder to create an object, while biomimicry would be to synthesize a composite material in a lab in the same way that an abalone builds its shell.
(v) Almost all human designs and products could be developed or improved using biomimicry. These could be physical objects, such as a car, toothbrush, or computer; processes, such as one’s morning routine, cleaning microdevices, or the transport of a good; or systems, such as an agricultural system, a government, or a business.
(vi) Respect and long-term support for all species on Earth is the ethos of biomimicry. We could design a drone whose structure and navigation accurately emulates the locust but that drops bombs that kill masses of beings and pollute the environment. Such an application does not support life; this is not biomimicry. The ultimate objective of practicing biomimicry is to shift our current paradigm from domination to fitting in on Earth – to satisfy our needs while also creating conditions that allow all species to thrive for countless generations to come.
"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better," said that wise dude named Einstein.
Surely, there are countless ways to look deep into nature, and I want to explore many of these with you over time. But first, let's start at the beginning: the definition of nature. Here is a typical one, pulled from Oxford Living Dictionaries:
The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.
'the breathtaking beauty of nature'
This definition excludes humans from nature. And yet, we humans are inseparable from and totally dependent on nature, shaped by the same forces as all other living beings on Earth. What a shame that our definition of nature doesn't include us. If language represents culture, then as a society, we see ourselves as being separate from nature. It is time we remember our place on this planet. It is time for us to (re)connect.
This blog aims to be a collection of information, insights, and opportunities in the field of biomimicry, written by Ayla Kiser, research scientist and biomimic-in-training.