Category: Guest Lectures

Publication & Guest Lecture at Akron’s Austen BioInnovation Institute

Biomimicry Cartoon

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!



Lecture on Biomimicry: Reflections

In this blogpost I’ll be sharing some thoughts that arose after giving a guest lecture at Diablo Valley College in California. I was invited by Leo Bersamina, a great artist, teacher, and inspiring person. It’s actually funny how we met; He was sitting next to me on an airplane. We hadn’t exchanged words, but after finishing lunch he was having difficulties putting away his tray table and I thought he could use some help. Our conversation quickly went from talking about airplane tray tables to design, colors, and eventually biomimicry. We stayed in contact and almost a year later he invited me to fly out and give a lecture about biomimicry to a group of undergrads. You never know where a conversation with a complete stranger might lead, but in this case Leo and I ended up sharing amazing life stories, interesting discussion, and I was offered an opportunity I would not have had otherwise. Taking every chance you get to learn from strangers, rather than living in your own asocial ‘virtual world’ of your phone (just now, before posting this post I saw this 4 min video “Look up” which is about this very topic), is something I’ve been actively doing after reading the book “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World”, written by Tina Seeling. A must read (or listen), even for those who aren’t in their 20s anymore! As executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, an entrepreneur, a neuroscientist, and a successful teacher, Tina shares provocative stories and provides inspiring advice, tangible skills and insights that will last a lifetime.


Not only was it my very first lecture, the audience was primarily fine art students. As a biotechnologist, I haven’t had much exposure to fine arts and therefore don’t speak “the language.” But as I prepared the lecture I made new and unexpected connections between structural coloration (see blogpost about my research) and design; I saw how structural colors are very much relevant to the art world. One great artist that inspired me is Franziska Schenk. I met her during the Living Light conference in Namur, Belgium a couple of weeks ago. She is a pioneer in synthetically creating iridescent colors by consulting with experts in the field and using principles she learned from studying mechanisms of coloration in natural organisms. This article is a great read if interested in this topic. Also, I think it is a great example of how bringing two different worlds – science and art – together leads to very innovative applications. This is Biomimicry at its best.

Schermafbeelding 2014-05-03 om 8.09.44 AM

One important challenge was keeping the students engaged throughout the lecture, which was much more technical than they are used to, because I was sharing some scientific research. This, I think, is a typical challenge when talking about biomimicry, as it is best practiced when truly interdisciplinary. This is something people who want to disseminate biomimicry in an inspiring but more than superficial level should be thinking about. Sharing successes and failures will help our community develop a common language and be more intentional about the manner in which we are spreading the biomimicry meme!


Here are my reflections after giving my lecture at Diablo Valley College:

– I kept the technical details to a minimum but didn’t remove them entirely, incorporating a sufficient level so the audience would understand the science…but I could have shared even more visuals. Artists want to see things with their eyes; SEE the world in a different way.

– Leo and I had agreed beforehand that he would jump in at anytime when appropriate. This way he was able to draw connections that I didn’t recognize, since he knows the background of his students. I think this was a great way to keep the students interested, as it made the lecture more interactive.

– Asking questions of your audience helps keep them alert.

– Sharing some personal stories, experiences or interests make it more appealing and easier for them to relate to what you’re talking about. If you can do it, why not them?!

–  I wanted them to do some thinking as well, so I ended the lecture with a short exercise. {I’m wondering if it would have been better to give the exercise somewhere in the middle?}

The exercise was the following:

I told them a short story about being inspired by the purple snail. I gave them its biological strategy: Purple snails float on water surfaces by means of a bubble raft made by its mobile foot, which blows air bubbles and, after enveloping them in mucus, makes a sort of raft that allows them to travel wherever the current and wind takes them. Then I had them work in small groups of five to abstract a dsign principle [emulation] and brainstorm how this principle could inform human design. I asked them to think about the three levels of biomimicry: forms, processes and systems. I reminded them to not consider applications beyond transportation; are there other fields where you could apply this strategy?


Here are some of the coolest ideas that the students came up with after only 10-15 minutes:

–       An inflatable lifejacket for use during emergency situations like a plane crash or a sinking boats; a temporary patch for a flat tire; an emergency landing gear “pillow”
–       The principle could inspire the design of a curtain, creating a veiled layer
–       Gas storage system: e.g. hydroponics for growing plants; oxygen device for deep sea diving