31 October 2005
New Research Center Aims To Plagiarize Nature
by Kate Melville
A new research facility called the Center for Biologically Inspired Design (CBID) has been created by an interdisciplinary group of scientists and engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology. The researchers involved believe that nature can inspire design and engineering solutions that are efficient, practical and sustainable.
Associate Professor of Biology and CBID co-director Marc Weissburg believes that biology can be both a guide and an inspiration to understanding problems in design and engineering. "In comparative physiology, we teach that every animal has to solve a particular problem to survive, so every animal is a design solution for a particular problem," he explained. "They can provide solutions for more efficient manufacturing and design of materials with new capabilities, for example. These are things the biological world has solved, and if you study them, you have the opportunity to apply that knowledge in the human sector."
The directors of the CBID have coined a new term, "bioneers", to describe not just their researchers - who hail from diverse disciplines like biology and engineering - but what they hope will eventually become a network of citizens, scientists and entrepreneurs that explores practical solutions adapted from natural systems and native cultures. Not surprisingly, the center is expected to have a strong focus on biomimicry and biomimetics (research in biologically inspired design). Director Jeannette Yen said she is keen "to see how nature does things like gathering and transporting energy, and then see if we can translate those processes for human applications."
At present, the CBID has only 17 members but the projects already underway are impressive. Some examples include:
- An auditory retina based on the fish ear.
- Nanostructure synthesis via the self-assembled, biomineralized template (the marine diatom).
- A Web-hosting optimization technique based on the foraging strategy of honey bees.
- Neuro-mechanical control principles derived from animals to engineer prosthetics and robots.
Yen said the CBID would provide a new way for engineers and biologists to design solutions to problems. She noted that biomimetry even offers inspiration for the way students and faculty learn. "Like animals, we can learn by playing," Yen said. "We're looking to nature as our template."
Source: Georgia Institute of Technology