Back in late February near the start of my PhD, my sponsors were asked if they had an interest in organizing a Biomimicry Open Innovation Session for 2017. Similar to last October’s Open Innovation Session organized by former Biomimicry Fellow Emily Kennedy (now a graduate!) and her sponsor GOJO, the idea is to pose a challenge statement unique to your industry that is open to collaboration and biomimicry design thinking to seek potential solutions. These sessions leverage the regional biomimicry community with support from Great Lakes Biomimicry.
Following many planning sessions with my three sponsors (Biohabitats, Cleveland Water Alliance, ODNR) as well as Great Lakes Biomimicry throughout the year, the Innovation Session was held at the Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room on Wednesday November 1st from 1-5pm. 26 people from 8 unique institutions participated with 10+ biomimicry models identified and abstractions generated!
The challenge statement was as follows: To incorporate habitat features into existing and/or new shore protection structures to provide aquatic habitat for targeted fish species and enhance ecological functions, benefits and services in both freshwater riverine and coastal environments
Three potential focus areas were given:
- Structure: Alter structure to absorb or dissipate instead of reflect or refract wave energy. Wave reflection & refraction result in altered sediment transport pathways along Lake Erie’s shoreline.
- Habitat utilization: Nursery habitat for larval and young fish, habitat refugia that provide hiding places and protection against predators, feeding habitat for foraging fish.
- Materials: Soft structures utilize natural materials, like woody debris and vegetation, while hard structures are comprised of rock, cement and steel. Consider alternative, biologically compatible materials that offer functional benefits. Or, offer a solution between hard and soft structures or a structure that can be a combination of both hard and soft materials.
Throughout this week, I have prepared a three-part series (Tuesday through Friday morning) to share the content from the introductory presentations given at the start of the Innovation Session. I am presenting all this information for a few reasons. First, for those who didn’t attend to learn about what was presented and discussed. Second, for all those who follow this blog to learn more about the background behind my PhD thesis. 2018 (Year 2) is coming up for me already, which means a hopeful thesis proposal defense by the end of Year 2!
The three presentations were:
- Characterization of the Ohio Lake Erie shoreline through the lens of coastal protection – Jim Park, ODNR Coastal Engineer (Part 1)
- Aquatic habitat for targeted nearshore and open fish populations of Lake Erie – Scott Winkler, Ohio EPA Division of Surface Waters (Part 2)
- Coastal restoration: Project examples of coastal protection and ecological function – Chris Streb, Biohabitats Ecological Engineer (Part 3)
Part 1: Characterization of the Ohio Lake Erie shoreline through the lens of coastal protection
What is a shore protection structure?
Jim gave many examples, which included revetments, seawalls, groins, breakwaters and beach.
Revetments are typically composed of large, rough, angular rock on a slope that dissipates wave energy on both the slope and rough surface. Revetments typically protect the foot of a cliff or a dune, or a dike or seawall against erosion by wave actions, storm surge and currents.
Seawalls are vertical structures at the land/water interface designed to prevent erosion and storm surge flooding. They are made of concrete block, cast-in-place concrete or steel sheet pile. Seawalls reflect wave energy; they do not dissipate. Seawalls provide easy access to the water by boats docked along the wall. Steel sheet pile seawalls are almost exclusively used along the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland for transportation of goods by freighters and for recreational boaters to dock by restaurants along the water.
Groins are shore-perpendicular structures made of stone, concrete or sheet-pile. They are effective in beach protection and had widespread past use in Ohio. If you are familiar with the Cleveland coastline, there are a few stone groins at Edgewater Beach and a few being installed at Perkins Beach currently!
Breakwaters can be submerged, off-shore or connected to the land and are made up of large stone. They are designed to reduce wave action. Breakwaters are usually built to provide calm waters for harbors and marinas. Submerged breakwaters are specifically built to reduce beach erosion. A beach is typically formed or retained on the landward site. They may also be referred to as artificial “reefs.”
If beaches are there, they are the most natural and effective form of shore protection.
The Ohio shoreline of Lake Erie is one of the most developed and structurally protected of the Great Lakes. Structural protection began in the early 1800s with the development of harbors, but any protection structure caused adjacent downdrift shoreline erosion. The affected shoreline, in turn, then requires armoring to mitigate the wave energy breaking directly on the shoreline rather than dissipating along the beach. As the Lake Erie Commission explains in their 2004 State of the Lake Report, “This ‘domino effect’ of erosion and shoreline armoring continues to this day.”
These shore protection structures have limited natural habitat value and alter coastal and hydrologic connections that in turn affect ecological processes and biological life cycles. On the mainland shore of western Lake Erie, the current coastal protection structures are not favorable to the nearshore biological community in both structure type and composition.
We know that coastal protection structures alter the primary mode of wave energy reduction; i.e. some reflect the waves back into the lake or refract the waves instead of dissipate. We also know these structures disrupt sediment (or the more technical term – littoral) transport pathways across the lake and many cause downdrift shoreline erosion. We also know they disconnect the land-water interface. How does this connection and other disruptions affect ecological processes and biological life cycles? We will touch on this question some with Scott Winkler’s presentation on nearshore fish populations tomorrow for Part 2!
Feel free to comment below or reach out to me on LinkedIn throughout this week if you have questions or ideas to contribute!
Fuller, J.A., and B.E. Gerke. 2005. Distribution of shore protection structures and their erosion effectiveness and biological compatibility. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Sandusky, Ohio.
[LEC] Lake Erie Commission. 2004a. State of Ohio, State of the Lake Report. Toledo, Ohio.
*Note- All shore protection structure photos were part of the presentation given by Jim Park on November 1st at Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room. Permission was granted to share content and photos.
Plant Biomimicry: Thigmotropism
Rebecca Eagle, November 13, 2017
Over the past three years in our program, I’ve had many opportunities to converse with interested folks about the wonders of plants. Plants do some pretty miraculous things, no doubt. At the very core of their existence, they are required to survive ‘in place’. How many other living organisms on Earth can claim this feat? Very, very few things can accumulate life’s requirements (reproduction and resource acquisition), without movement. Not to mention, plants also must adapt to local conditions: contamination, weather, drought/flooding events, and more. While animals, insects, and birds can move when their environment gets unfavorable, plants must shelter in place and utilize strategies that they’ve evolved over the millennia of time they’ve been on this planet.
A favorite plant of many inquisitors of plant biomimicry is the Venus Fly Trap (Dioneae muscipula). Why wouldn’t someone
admire this plant?! It eats meat, but cannot move from place because it lacks musculature and because it needs to stay rooted in the ground to obtain water, minerals, and necessary stability to stay erect. Many are surprised to learn that this insectivore is native to our own United States, found chiefly in wetlands of the Carolinas. Let’s discuss the biology of the Venus flytrap, and then talk about its inspiration for design applications.
The Venus Fly Trap lives in nutrient-poor wetland soils, particularly low in nitrogen and phosphorus. Plants require these elements and all plants have strategies that allow them to acquire them from their environments—sometimes in very unique ways! Remember, though, that plants can’t move. They rely on things that are accessibly near them. Soil and the atmosphere being the mediums for most plants, cannot be relied on by the Venus flytrap. This constraint doesn’t faze it! Other organisms come to plants, right? Aphids, pollinators, nectarivores, and other critters visit plants for meals of all cuisines (vegetation and nectar), and this carnivorous plant evolved to capture the nutrients and energy from these insects to ensure its survival throughout time! (The first written documentation of the Venus Fly Trap was noted in 1760 in North Carolina, by North Carolina Colonial Governor Arthur Dobbs ). A question I am frequently asked is whether the plant does photosynthesis. Yes, the Venus flytrap does have the same anatomy and physiology required to be in the Kingdom Plantae. It is not uncommon to hear that they rely solely on insects for nutrients, but this is not true. Insects are merely the back-up mechanism for the minerals that a play would obtain from the soil, not the CO2 or sunlight energy obtained above ground.
We get it, the Venus flytrap eats insects for nutrients… but how? (Video: 4-minute YouTube video of Venus flytrap in action). When a larger-sized insect (flies, ants, spiders, grasshoppers, i.e.), lands on the inside of the leaf blade, the weight of it will eventually trigger minute hairs. These trigger hairs will respond (0.1 second response time), by closing the trap. Ideally, the prey will be inside, but, as you can see in the suggested video, this mechanism is not fail-safe. As is in nature and life, sometimes we lose the game.
The response of the trigger hairs is an example of a nastic movement and thigmotropism. Thigmotropism is the act of responding to the direct stimulus of touch, such as a fly landing on the inner leaf blade and bumping into one of the two or three trigger hairs. Nastic movements are controlled by hormones, more so than by a direct stimulus. Once the direct stimulus causes the thigmotrophic response, auxin (a plant hormone) stimulates cell expansion as a rapid growth response. In short, the cells inside the leaf of the Venus flytrap are told to swell up quickly, which causes the leaf blades to close. This is the same physiological response and movement that is witnessed when a flower of an angiosperm plant opens and closes in response to light! (As an aside, auxin does some pretty rad things in plants that I encourage you all to read about in your down time!).
Bio-inspiration from the Venus Flytrap
How could we not be inspired by this amazing plant?! I’ve talked in previous posts about some possible applications for designs based on the mechanisms of the Venus flytrap: baby gates, pet gates, sensors for factories, sensors for home safety, etc. I won’t rehash that conversation. The general idea involved here is the passive sensing with quick response that uses only clean energy.
While the response mechanism is certainly worthy of investigating, I would add in the importance of Life’s Principles as an additional means of bio-inspiration from the Venus flytrap. If we consider the rationale involved in utilizing insects for survival, we witness the ability of this natural organism to obtain its needs from the local environment in absence of the preferred mechanism for sequestration. As far as I know, the Venus flytrap isn’t shipping in her flies and spiders from the west coast. She has found a way to survive and thrive with what is near to and available to her. She is substituting a necessary product for another locally obtained product. She carefully considered her choices and chose to adapt and evolve, rather than die.
Of course I am getting a bit anthropomorphic here, but my goal is to encourage companies to look at the bigger picture of what is important to the planet, to its business, and to its customers. The amount of money and natural resources that are invested in product development could, perhaps, be re-evaluated to better meet the needs of the business by responsibly utilizing local supplies, rather than shipping them into the area. The re-evaluation might discover that the location of the business itself is better suited to be near the customers it most services—avoiding the strain of shipping far distances.
As I leave you, to spend more time preparing for my upcoming comprehensive exams, I would like to mention this quote I read in Botany for Gardeners (Capon, 1990). The preface of the quote describes the means by which antifreeze was developed, inspired by ‘leaf antifreeze’ (increasing the concentration of sugars in the protoplasm to lower the freezing point inside the cells). “Plants have been ahead of human invention by several million years.” Consider this as coming from a 1990’s book for gardeners, not for engineers, designers, or biomimicry-enthusiasts. This is written by someone who just appreciates plants for the value they bring to all of us in such a variety of ways. I encourage all of you to continue to read about the wonders of plants and be inspired by all the great things they do… all without leaving home!
The habitat of the Venus flytrap is limited to a small area of the Carolinas. Modern development threatens this already minuscule area with increasing take-over. Consider visiting the website of The Nature Conservancy to learn more about the plant that Charles Darwin has called “the most wonderful plant in the world.”1
 The Nature Conservancy, accessed November 13, 2017. https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/northcarolina/explore/venus-flytrap-brochure.pdf?redirect=https-301
 Capon, Brian. (1990). Botany for Gardeners: An Introduction and Guide. Portland, OR: Timber Press. pp. 86.
Earlier this month, August 2016, I had the privilege of leading an evening reception for the NASA and OAI Biomimicry Summit in Cleveland, Ohio. (OAI = Ohio Aeronautical Institute). A group of 60 attendees gathered inside the Primates, Cats, and Aquatics Building of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo as we engaged in a discussion of Biomimicry in Your Backyard. I selected three common backyard critters to demonstrate how easy it is to find inspiration in the spaces around us every day: La Plata Armadillo, Eastern Box Turtle, and Children’s Python. This week’s blog will feature our one and only “Chaco” the La Plata Armadillo (Tolypeutes matacus).
As we’ve discussed before, biomimicry is accomplished by two possible methods: 1) Start with a question and look to nature for a solution, or 2) Start with an inspiring organism and discover what problems can be solved using that particular structure or behavior. Working in the zoo setting, I typically start with the latter. Whether I am preparing for our Biomimicry/Ecophysiology class within our Advanced Inquiry Program through Miami University of Ohio and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, answering a question from one of our educators while preparing a program, or speaking at an event for Great Lakes Biomimicry, this is the case. I am given an animal and I start my research. My starting point is generally: What makes this organism unique? It is in this uniqueness that inspiration jumps out at you! I encourage all of you to try this any time you have a moment outdoors to think. It is really amazing what a person can dream up once the trigger is pulled. We will start at this point with our armadillo inspiration.
What makes an armadillo unique? Particularly, the La Plata Armadillo? I would play the Jeopardy music in the background, but I don’t think it will take you that long to come up with the answer: the carapace. The scutes are hard dermal bone with keratin—very similar to a tortoise shell. La Plata, also commonly called the 3-banded armadillo, has a shoulder plate and hip plate with dermal hinges to allow flexibility. This is the only species of armadillo that is able to roll into a complete ball, courtesy of a head plate and armored tail. The Hairy Armadillo (Chaetophractus vellerosus) contrastingly, has a soft outer shell.
The carapace offers several advantages. Most obviously, perhaps, is protection. The La Plata Armadillo is nearly impenetrable when he rolls into a ball. The only predator that could possibly open this shell needs to have opposable thumbs. However, even with this advantage, most predators would find the benefit (food) is not worth the cost (time) it takes to open. It also offers fortification measures by pinching the opposition in its hinges.
Another advantage of the carapace for this dweller of arid environments is thermal regulation. While all armadillos live in regions with temperatures between 92-97°F, the La Plata Armadillo can survive even hotter climates. One might think the shell would keep heat trapped inside the body, but the dermal hinges serve as climate control, allowing for air flow between the hinges.
Lastly, all armadillos have this really cool ability to travel across water. How?! They can hold their breath for really long periods of time. This allows them to walk on the bottom of riverbeds and waterways. What if they don’t want to walk? Like other mammals, they can suck in air and float across the water! Nothing can stop these guys from getting to the other side!
So I ask … what does the armadillo inspire in you?
Hi all, Thanks again for tuning in. I recently had the opportunity to speak at the first annual national biomimicry forum and education summit. The following is a transcript of the talk I gave including some of the associated imagery. Hope you all enjoy Fossil Doesn’t Equal Failure: Continue reading
Greetings! The case study I promised you in my last post documenting a successful implementation of biomimicry at my corporate sponsor, GOJO Industries, has finally published! It is featured in the most recent issue of Research-Technology Management, a leading source of knowledge and best practices on innovation management for leaders of research, development, and engineering worldwide. You can access the article, titled “Biomimicry: Streamlining the Front End of Innovation for Environmentally Sustainable Products, here. Let me know what you think!
In other news, I was invited by the Austen BioInnovation Institute to give a series of lectures on the ‘how-to’ of biomimicry to 40 high-achieving high school students enrolled in the 2016 BioInnovation Academy. The academy encourages students to explore solutions to real-life health and medical problems using a variety of innovation methods. This year the focus is reducing rates of concussion, so part of my lecture was on my own experiences as co-founder of a tech startup in this space. (Bill and my startup, Hedgemon, is developing a hedgehog-inspired impact protection technology, with initial focus on R&D of a safety liner for football helmets.) In a testament to the impact Great Lakes Biomimicry is making with their educational programs, HALF the students attending my first lecture were already familiar with the term biomimicry. Incredible!
After my lecture I tried out a pair of the Austen BioInnovation Institute’s concussion goggles, which simulate symptoms of traumatic brain injury such as dizziness, visual disconnect, and disorientation. My attempt at a game of catch while wearing the goggles was pathetic. The goggles make you look like a minion!
Happy Fourth of July to our American readers!
It’s been three weeks since I moved back to my familiar habitat in Ghent, Belgium, to finish my PhD remotely. From all places, my primary advisor’s lab relocated to The University of Ghent earlier this year.
I had spent the first 22 years of my life in the same city, in the same house, when I decided to pursue a PhD in Biomimicry. Since UAkron is the only university that offers a PhD degree in Biomimicry my decision to relocate there was easy. Two months later I jumped into a new chapter of my life, which has been an eye-opening adventure. Getting out of your comfort zone takes courage. Almost everything around you is new and different. In the 3.5 years I lived in Akron, I was exposed to so many new people, places, ideas, traditions, landscapes, recipes… Every day you can learn something new. Feeling like a total stranger at the start, it took curiosity and adaptation to make myself part of a new habitat. Continue reading
Lately, the Biomimicry PhD Fellowship Program has been attracting local and national media attention.
First, Rebecca Bagley, President and CEO of NorTech, blogged on Forbes.com about Five Tech Trends That Can Drive Company Success. Biomimicry topped the list of trends. The post mentioned the University of Akron’s $4.25 million commitment to research and innovation, including the appointment of 10 new biomimicry faculty over a period of six years. The first three hires, for fall 2014, will be in the areas of biodesign, comparative biomechanics, and soft materials. Bagley’s first post received so much positive feedback, that she did a follow-up a few weeks later titled Biomimicry: How Nature Can Streamline Your Business For Innovation. The second piece included rave reviews of the Biomimicry Fellowship Program from Pete Buca, head of Innovation & Technology at Parker Hannifin. Parker Hannifin was one of the first companies to sign on to sponsor a Corporate Biomimicry Fellow (Daphne).
Great Lakes Biomimicry Collaborative (GLBio) hosted an event for business leaders, scientists, and designers this Thursday. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss the collaborative’s recent accomplishments and future goals, and about sixty people from all different walks of life showed up for updates! GLBio representatives discussed the formal partnership they have established with Biomimicry 3.8 and how they plan to advance biomimicry as a discipline in northeast Ohio. Peter Niewiarowski, our PhD director, updated the audience on the PhD’s progression. Bill, Emily, and I each gave a 5-minute brief on the intellectual progress we’ve made in the past six months. Afterwards, everyone seemed really anxious to talk to us and learn more! The whole day gave us great vibes about what is happening in the region, and even more motivation to help disseminate this discipline to educators and a range of industries.
Biomimicry is all about the power of Nature to inspire novel ideas, so we couldn’t go the whole event without a little inspiration. During an intermission, an employee of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo walked around the audience with a live owl and snake! I was particularly excited about the owl given what I’ve learned about bird feathers in my advisor Matthew Shawkey’s lab at UAkron. The research focus in the lab are the diverse and often very vivid colors of bird feathers produced through structural coloration. The Cleveland Zoo employee talked about the owl’s unique ability for noiseless flight, and how this has inspired quieter, more efficient airplane wings. One of the comments made at the end of the GLBio resonated with me: “Innovation comes when you engage with the energy you feel when you look an owl in the eyes. We are all a part of the natural world.”
It was a wonderful experience networking with people of the same mindset. But forming these connections with forward-thinking people is only the beginning. As Henry Ford once said; “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
Today we attended the award ceremony for the Inamori Ethics Prize at Case Western Reserve University. We were accompanied by Tom Tyrell, the CEO of the Great Lakes Biomimicry Collaborative (GLBio). GLBio is an organization that brings together individuals and organizations in Northeast Ohio committed to building a regional (and one day global) biomimicry network. Leaders at GLBio first envisioned a Biomimicry PhD opportunity and partnered with UAkron and the Cleveland Institute of Art to make it a reality.
David Suzuki was this year’s Inamori Ethic prize recipient, and he gave a phenomenal acceptance speech encouraging a reevaluation of economic values. He asked the audience, how can we achieve ecological sustainability when we’ve created an economy in which we are ever-striving for the unattainable “goal”: growth?
Suzuki’s talk led to some very thought-provoking class discussions about sustainability. What is it? What scale is appropriate for measuring sustainability? Can we achieve economic sustainability if growth is the goal? If not, how could we reshape the economic system?